What happened Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium was a lose-lose for the Packers’ organization. They snapped their seven-game win streak with a loss to a Chiefs team that continues to look like a shell of the dynamic group that went to two straight Super Bowls. And Jordan Love, the QB they traded up for in the first round of the 2020 draft, struggled in his starting debut.
All that being said, it would be a mistake to judge Love off one performance, under far-less-than-ideal circumstances: on the road at one of the toughest places to play in the NFL, with only one day of practice with Davante Adams and amid the maelstrom swirling around the team because of how Aaron Rodgers handled his decision not to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It is also worth noting that, while many pointed to Kansas City’s defensive stats as a reason to be optimistic about Love, the Chiefs’ defense has given up a lot of yards this season but is still a difficult unit to make a debut against given its ability to blitz and disguise.
Love found out he would be starting just four days before the game against the Chiefs, when Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. Rodgers began a mandatory 10-day quarantine, meaning he wasn’t in the building to help coach up his backup. More significantly, though, because that protocol is only required for unvaccinated players who test positive, it revealed that Rodgers’s assertion this summer that he was “immunized” was, at best, misleading. Rodgers’s response to his untruthfulness being exposed was to join the radio show of a friend, Pat McAfee, in which he said he is allergic to an ingredient in the mRNA vaccines but spent most of his time delivering an indignant rebuttal to the “woke mob” while spreading misinformation about both the virus and the FDA-authorized vaccines.
There are bigger issues at play here, of course, but for Love, these were far from the ideal circumstances in which to take his first meaningful NFL snaps. (He threw seven garbage-time passes in Week 1 and played in two preseason games.) In fact, much about his arrival into the NFL has been less than ideal, from the Packers’ not giving Rodgers a heads-up about drafting a quarterback to the team’s adding pressure to Love’s selection by trading up for him, as opposed to simply picking a good player who fell to them—as the Packers did when drafting Rodgers in 2005.
Yes, there was plenty to critique about Love’s performance. He struggled with ball placement, like the series at the end of the first half when he threw behind Adams on third down and then seemed to be on an entirely different page from the star receiver on fourth down, looking to make a back-shoulder throw while Adams instead continued up field. His greenness also showed in his lack of command of certain game situations, like on that same possession when the Packers had to expend a timeout when the clock was already stopped by an incomplete pass, because the offense couldn’t get lined up in time.
Love put together one nice drive late in the fourth quarter, when the Packers made their only two third-down conversions in the game, out of 12 tries, and threw a touchdown pass to Allen Lazard on a fourth-and-5. But it was too late. The defense, which had been excellent all day, couldn’t get the Chiefs off the field one more time. The final score, a 13–7 loss, only underscored the impact of Green Bay’s special teams miscues in the first half: the missed field goal, the blocked field goal and the muffed punt that the Chiefs turned into a field goal, altogether accounting for a nine-point swing in the Packers’ disfavor.
In judging Love’s debut, we should also consider the fact that one of Rodgers’s offseason grievances was that this roster didn’t have enough around him. Practically, Love was out there on Sunday with less than Rodgers would have had. Rodgers’s greatest asset on the field is his uncanny connection with Adams, but last week Adams said “there’s not really a way to describe” his connection with Love, because they haven’t played together yet. And they did not get to practice together for most of last week, because Adams wasn’t activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list until Friday. Rodgers’s dissatisfaction with the players around him also led to the team’s July trade for Randall Cobb, a player who has been most valuable for his chemistry with Rodgers from their previous eight years playing together. Again, something Love does not have. Adams caught six of his team-high 14 targets for 42 yards. Cobb caught three passes for 50.
The Packers’ restructuring of Rodgers’s contract this summer sets up for the organization to have to make a decision on the reigning MVP’s future with the team after this season: Either they’ll part ways or he’ll sign an extension to reduce a cumbersome $46 million cap charge. It’s a situation that is awkward for all the parties involved: including, or maybe especially, Jordan Love. Because it meant that his unexpected debut as the Packers’ starting quarterback, for maybe one week or possibly two, under highly bizarre circumstances, was a potentially critical data point.
Instead, it should be viewed as a neutral. It was a losing day for the Packers, after a losing week. Certainly, the Packers wanted Love to light things up, both for their win column in 2021 and for their leverage in any decisions made in ’22 and beyond. But you can be sure that whatever decision the Packers and Rodgers make about their future together will be based on a lot more than how Love looked on one afternoon in November.
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