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History Shows Why LaFleur’s Wise To Temper Expectations for Love

Winning games in the NFL is hard. Just ask Aaron Rodgers or other NFL greats past and present.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Before Aaron Rodgers replaced Brett Favre with an exclamation mark, he was a question mark.

By the time Rodgers’ first season as the Green Bay Packers’ starting quarterback was complete, there were no questions about Rodgers’ talent (he topped 4,000 passing yards) or toughness (he started all 16 games despite an injured throwing shoulder). The question was whether Rodgers could actually win games.

After going 13-3 with a trip to the NFC Championship Game in 2007, the 2008 Packers finished 6-10. They started 4-3, highlighted by a blowout victory over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, before the wheels came off. Green Bay lost seven of its next eight games. Bookended by a pair of overtime losses, six of those defeats came by four points or less.

Great quarterbacks are supposed to win close games. Good quarterbacks should at least win a few of them. When the Packers lost in overtime at Chicago to fall to 5-10, their record in games decided by four or fewer points had fallen to a mind-boggling 0-7.

The season ended six days later with a 31-21 victory over Detroit, an outcome that capped the Lions’ 0-16 season.

Turns out, all Rodgers needed was a year of starting experience. From 2009 through 2022, only the New England Patriots won more regular-season games than the Packers. Eleven of those 14 seasons ended in the playoffs.

There are exceptions – Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs to a 12-4 record in his first year as the starter – but quarterbacks usually need time to find their way. Jordan Love probably will, too.

Drew Brees, who ranks second all-time in touchdown passes, went 10-17 in two seasons with the Chargers. Peyton Manning, who ranks third all-time in touchdown passes, went 3-13 in his first year as the Colts’ starter. Rodgers’ legendary predecessor, Brett Favre, who ranks fourth all-time in touchdown passes, went 26-21 in his first three seasons in Green Bay.

It’s no different among today’s young guns. Josh Allen went 5-6 in his first year as the Bills’ starter. Joe Burrow went 2-7-1 in his first year as the Bengals’ starter. Justin Herbert went 6-9 in his first year as the Chargers’ starter. Trevor Lawrence went 3-14 in his first year as the Jaguars’ starter.

No wonder Packers coach Matt LaFleur threw out the caution flag on Tuesday.

“We’re excited about Jordan and how he’s been able to progress as a quarterback, how he’s matured as a man,” LaFleur told reporters at the NFL owners meetings on Tuesday. “It’s going to be a different role for him, certainly, and I think we all have to temper our expectations for him.”

Working to Love’s advantage is he got to watch and learn for three years. That didn’t help Rodgers lift the Packers to instant success, though. A full 17-game season will be a much bigger challenge than a 10-snap appearance at the end of last year’s loss at Philadelphia.

Adding to the challenge is he’s going to be surrounded by a bunch of young receivers. There will be growing pains for Love, in particular, and the passing game, in general.

“It’s different when you’re going into a game vs. when you’re a starting game,” LaFleur said. “It’s going to be a process but it’s going to be exciting for him, for us. I don’t think any quarterback can truly do it on their own in this league. It’s going to be everybody rallying around him and trying to play at their best ability so that he can go out there and perform as good as he possibly can.”

A year ago, the Packers handed Rodgers a three-year, $150 million contract. It was with the intention of him closing his career in Green Bay. Love’s growth last season, including his mastery of the offense and his improved mechanics working with quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, played a role in the team’s decision to make a franchise-altering change at the most important position in the NFL.

“He’s come a long way, quite frankly,” LaFleur said. “I know there were some times where, early on, you don’t know. I still think you have to go out there and you’ve got to do it consistently. It’s one thing to do it in practice; it’s another thing to take it to the game field and do it. But, certainly, have seen his performance in practice, his mechanics, his decisions, his timing within the pass game, I think just his accuracy, which is what we’re always grading the quarterback on, I think he’s come a long way. …

“I would say we’ve seen that in practice over this last year. That gives us some confidence in him.”

Confidence, with a touch of caution, was the feeling in 2008 during the transition from Favre to Rodgers. The Packers can only hope the lessons learned over the upcoming season will serve as the launching point for another decade-plus of championship contention.

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