Packers Ready For Love Football

FILE -Green Bay Packers' Jordan Love throws during an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Green Bay, Wis. With Aaron Rodgers saying he intends to play for the New York Jets in the upcoming season, Love finally gets his chance to take over as a starting quarterback in his fourth NFL season. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

Mike McCarthy knew.

It was Nov. 29, 2007, and McCarthy’s Green Bay Packers had just suffered a 37-27 loss at Dallas in a match-up of two 10-1 teams.

Brett Favre was injured early in that game, Aaron Rodgers came on in relief and performed remarkably well.

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As McCarthy got on a plane that night to return to the NFL’s smallest city, he knew that whenever Favre decided to hang it up, the Packers would be just fine with Rodgers.

"It was clear we weren’t changing," McCarthy said at the NFL Combine last month. "We didn’t pull back on the game plan and Aaron went in there and played extremely well that night.

"And I just do recall on the plane ride home, (general manager) Ted (Thompson) and I talking about his performance. We knew then that he was ready. So that was kind of a moment for us.

"But the reality of it is, you see it every day in practice. The way Aaron practiced, ask our defensive players from ’06 and ’07 and they’ll tell you that everybody knew that he had a chance to be a great player." Today, the Packers feel the exact same way about Jordan Love.

And that’s why Rodgers will be wearing a Jets uniform as soon as Green Bay and New York agree on trade compensation.

Love just finished his third year as a backup in Green Bay, the same amount of time that Rodgers sat behind Favre.

And the Packers believe in Love today the same way they believed in Rodgers back in 2008.

The odds of Love developing into a Hall of Famelevel quarterback, as Rodgers did, are astronomical. But Green Bay thinks Love can become an elite player in the league and wants to discover first-hand what its 2020 first round draft pick can do.

"Well, he needs to play. I think I’ve spoken about that before. He definitely needs to play," Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said of Love. "I think that’s the next step in his progression. I think he’s ready for that.

"Not every quarterback comes into this league ready to go out there and play. I think he needed a little time, but over the last year and a half or so, we’ve seen that’s the next step in his progression. He needs to go out and play."

Love certainly wasn’t ready to play when he arrived in Green Bay.

Love threw 20 touchdowns, but a concerning 17 interceptions during the 2019 season at Utah State, then declared early for the draft. Love had six games with multiple interceptions and had three picks returned for touchdowns during his final collegiate season.

Some blamed the talent around Love and a coaching change for his struggles at Utah State. But Love’s decision making in 2019 was abysmal, and he was cited for marijuana possession in a case was later dismissed.

"The biggest difference for me was obviously the turnovers, they went up," Love said before the 2020 draft. "I was trying to do too much and force the ball downfield, thinking I could make throws into tight windows. There were situations where I could have checked the ball down, but I was trying to make that play."

Love’s rookie season in Green Bay was lost largely due to COVID-19. There was no offseason program, there were no preseason games, and he spent the entire year as Green Bay’s No. 3 quarterback behind both Rodgers and Tim Boyle.

Love made one start in 2021 — a 13-7 loss at Kansas City — when Rodgers was sidelined with COVID. And Love finished that year completing 36-of-62 passes for 411 yards with two touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 68.7.

But Love took a major jump before and during his third season — the same point Rodgers made a gigantic leap.

Rodgers skipped the majority of Green Bay’s 2022 offseason program, giving Love ample opportunity to work with the No. 1 offense. Love looked like a different player during those practices — as well as when his number was called during the regular season.

During a 40-33 loss at Philadelphia on Nov. 27, Rodgers left the game with a rib injury early in the fourth quarter. Enter Love who went 6-of-9 for 113 yards, had a quarterback rating of 146.8 and led the Packers to 10 points on his two drives.

Love’s breakout performance came nearly 15 years to the day that Rodgers showed the Packers he could be their heir apparent to Favre.

"I’m not shocked to be honest with you that he went out there and played well and showed great poise," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of Love. "We see it on a daily basis in practice. People might not necessarily agree with that but I see it every day. I think he’s a guy that has continued to get better and better each and every day in practice. Does a great job against our defense and giving them fits and giving them really tough looks."

Love played in four games in 2022 and finished the year 14-of-21 for 195 yards, one TD, no interceptions and a quarterback rating of 112.2.

It took a while, but that was the type of player Gutekunst envisioned having when he traded up four spots in the 2020 draft to take Love.

Love’s physical characteristics and arm strength had quarterback-needy teams salivating before that draft.

Love displayed fantastic arm talent, could throw from several arm slots, had nifty touch on deep balls and extremely large hands (10-1/2 inches). Love’s scrambling ability was impressive and his confidence was sky-high.

On the flip side, Love seemed to lack anticipation and was slow in his reads at Utah State. Love had a long windup and often stared receivers down.

But Love’s physical gifts and flashes of brilliance excited many teams — including Green Bay.

And after three years of watching and waiting, the Packers believe he’s ready.

"I don’t try to look at just because we did something in the past that guarantees we have to do something in the future," Gutekunst said. "I think for me, it’s about doing what’s best for the Green Bay Packers in the moment and then just moving forward.

"Obviously my job is to look out and have a little bit of vision into the future, not just today, but at the same time I think you can’t control some of the circumstances and the variables.

You just have to make the best decision that you can with the information you have at the time, so I’m excited to see Jordan grow and play, and I certainly expect that to be here, but again, the variables and things that’ll come around, I can’t predict that."

The Packers are predicting, though, that Love is the answer.

If they didn’t feel that way, they would have never been willing to part with a four-time MVP and Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Now, Green Bay will cross its collective fingers and hope its transition to Love has similar results as its conversion to Rodgers 15 years ago.

"I think whenever players progress, it factors into all the decisions that you’re making," Gutekunst said of Love. "We took him for a reason back in 2020, he’s been progressing nicely, and to see him kind of take the jump he did this past year was nice. Again, it’s much different than going out there week in, week out, taking on the challenges when teams are game planning for you. "We were talking earlier about the length of time it takes a quarterback to go from playing well to winning in this league, and he’ll need to go through those things just like every other quarterback. He’s taken some really good jumps and there’s more out there for him, but I think the things that are out there for him, he’s going to heed to play to do that."

And now Love finally gets that chance.

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