I was wrong about Jordan Love.
When the Green Bay Packers traded up in the 2020 NFL Draft to take the Utah State product in the first round, I was shocked like everyone else. The Packers were coming off a 13-3 season and a loss in the NFC Championship Game, so the roster was clearly in contention mode. Even though Aaron Rodgers looked shaky at times in Matt LaFleur’s first year as the team’s head coach and had a contract conversation looming, there was no reason to believe the Packers would legitimately move on. And for all of Love’s positive attributes, he had plateaued in his senior season at Utah State and wasn’t a consensus first-round pick.
The Packers took Love one pick behind 49ers receiver Brandon Aiyuk and four picks behind Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson. Love went seven picks ahead of Bengals receiver Tee Higgins and eight picks ahead of Colts receiver Michael Pittman Jr. In a decent wide receiver class, the Packers didn’t draft a single one across the seven rounds. For the next three seasons, Love largely sat on the bench and was not even the official backup.
Whether that decision cost the Packers a Super Bowl or not is unclear, since the team did make it to the NFC Championship Game in 2020 and was the top seed in the NFC in 2021. What it did do is pitch expectations beyond what most first-year full-time starters experience. If Love failed in 2023, there would be calls for general manager Brian Gutekunst and LaFleur to be fired.
When I outlined the best and worst case scenarios for Green Bay in the preseason, Love was the wild card. The supporting cast was largely the same, and Rodgers’ decline in play was a big reason the team missed the postseason in 2022. If Love was bad, this would be a failed season again. If he played to the strengths of the team, the Packers would be in the playoff hunt. If he was excellent, the team would win the division and look like a title contender. I expected this group to be around eight or nine wins and in the playoff mix.
For the first seven weeks, it looked like everything was lost. Love began the season with a big-time win over the Bears, but completed just 57.6% of his passes as the team went 2-4. He had 11 touchdowns to eight interceptions, with three coming against the Raiders in a Monday night clunker. He threw a late interception against the struggling Broncos at the time, costing the team another chance at a win. These throws weren’t high-percentage attempts, and they weren’t routine. They were reckless attempts to make plays from a quarterback who pushed beyond what he was expected to do.
There was a three-game stretch against the Chargers, Lions and Chiefs where things seemed to change. Love completed 68.5% of his throws for eight touchdowns and no picks, while the Packers went 3-0 to put themselves right back in the mix. It was the flip side of Love’s volatile play in 2023 and it was magical. The duds against the Giants and Bucs were more on the defense, as Love completed 69.2% of his throws and had three touchdowns to just one interception.
In the final three games of the season, the quarterback appeared to find an even higher level of play. He hit on 73% of his throws for seven touchdowns and no interceptions but more importantly, did something Rodgers couldn’t do in the previous season and beat a division rival at home to make the playoffs. Love continued to find passing angles that weren’t there, make throws in the smallest windows and elevate the youngest offense in the league. The Packers finished 9-8, and they were 6-5 in games decided by one possession.
Defeating the Cowboys in a playoff game feels routine for franchises but it was an important step for the Packers. Dallas was dominating teams at home this year and Green Bay had the youngest squad in football. Love was on fire, and the defense showed up in a big way. The team surely believed it could make a run to begin with, but the confidence only grew after that result.
Saturday’s loss to the 49ers wasn’t as devastating as the setbacks in 2014 and 2022 (sorry for bringing back bad memories), but the fashion in which the team lost was rough. Anders Carlson missed a crucial field goal, making it the 11th time in 19 games this season he missed either a field goal or extra point attempt. Love missed some throws too, with one pass intended for Tucker Kraft resulting in a big interception. The quarterback also didn’t make enough plays in the red zone, with the team only getting 21 points on six red zone trips. And the final throw was a classic case of Love trying to thread a needle that didn’t exist. He ran one way, threw the ball across his body and across the field into triple coverage while the rain was coming down hard for the game-sealing interception. In the postgame press conference, he said he thought he saw a window.
Love finished second in touchdown passes, seventh in passing yards, sixth in EPA, 10th in adjusted yards per attempt, ninth in ESPN’s QBR and 11th in quarterback rating. He did not enter the season as a consensus top-10 quarterback and at one point, he was a bottom-5 passer. There still might be questions about whether he’d be taken in the top 10 in a league-wide quarterback draft due to the down years of some other high-profile passers but he put together a top-10 season amidst high expectations. That’s impressive, and it’s beyond what I thought he would do. As you might expect, I am happy to be wrong. Love’s supporting cast should largely be the same in 2024, and the Packers should have more injury luck than they did in 2023.
What gives me hope and what should give Packers fans hope for the future is Love’s daring nature. The very thing that resulted in bad interceptions and missed opportunities has also led to big comebacks and insanely placed throws in crucial moments. You can’t play quarterback in this league without being willing to take risks, and you can’t play quarterback for this franchise without being able to take the heat when it goes wrong. Love did both without ever flinching.
Brett Favre won at least one postseason game nine times in 12 playoff appearances. Rodgers won at least one postseason game seven times in 11 playoff appearances. Both quarterbacks elevated some poor teams in doing so, and Love is on his way to that type of track record after playing two more playoff games this season than most expected. He’s helping the team punch above its weight in the biggest contests, and that’s all you can really ask for from a starting quarterback.
There are things to clean up, as there always will be. Love does need to eliminate some of his ad-lib throws, especially in situations where the team needs points at all costs. He does need to be better on some easier throws, as he often misfired on simple routes. Some of that will come as the offense spends more time together, but there’s a fine line between fine tuning a player and taking away his edge. Favre’s gunslinging nature became his brand, and there wasn’t a single throw on the field Rodgers didn’t think he could make. Love shouldn’t lose that flair. I’d rather have him throw a game-ending interception trying to make a play than throw a four-yard out route on 4th and 8 with the season on the line.
Love’s next challenge will be to meet new expectations in 2024. The Packers are going to be largely the same group, and their late surge and playoff performance will have fans thinking big. Opponents will have more tape on Love, and they’ll also have more respect for his abilities. He did have a dip at Utah State in his senior season, and young players fluctuate in performance more than veterans. If he can replicate his 2023 season without the ebbs and flows, the Packers should once again be in the postseason mix. And Love might cement himself as a top-10 quarterback.