Eighteen months after Jordan Love became a first-round NFL draft pick, the former Utah State quarterback made his first regular-season start for the Green Bay Packers.
That opportunity came after the Packers’ star quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, tested positive for COVID-19 last week and was forced to miss Sunday’s game between Green Bay and Kansas City, a game the Chiefs won 13-7 at Arrowhead Stadium.
How did Love look in his first chance in the starting spotlight?
Love’s stat line against the Chiefs
Love completed 19 of 34 passes for 190 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He also carried the ball eight times for 23 yards and was sacked once, for an 11-yard loss.
While those numbers aren’t overly impressive, they matched up favorably against the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, who completed 20 of 37 passes for a career-low 166 yards and one touchdown in a game in which both offenses struggled to get momentum going.
Chiefs barrage Love with blitzes
Kansas City chose to consistently blitz Love, leading to some lackluster offensive numbers for Green Bay. According to ESPN, Love completed 6 of 17 passes for 30 yards against the blitz, with 20 of those yards coming on one play — Love’s touchdown pass to Allen Lazard late in the game.
Love was blitzed on 69% of his third- and fourth-down dropbacks, per ESPN, and as a result, the Packers converted just 2 of 12 on third downs, though they converted 2 of 3 fourth downs — including the TD pass.
While the Chiefs only sacked Love once, Kansas City sent five or more pass-rushers on 51% of Love’s dropbacks, per ESPN, the highest rate faced by a Green Bay quarterback in nearly four years. Kansas City also had seven QB hits on Love.
“This one falls on me, squarely,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said postgame. “Certainly, for us to be 2-for-12 on third down, obviously didn’t have a good enough plan for some of the zero pressures that they brought on us.”
Facing such pressure, Love struggled to get into a rhythm. While he targeted Packers leading wide receiver Davante Adams 14 times, Love only connected with him on six passes for 42 yards.
Love also threw a costly fourth-quarter interception trying to connect with Adams. Facing a third-and-10 at the Kansas City 24, Love, who had good pass protection on the play, overthrew Adams near the 10-yard line and was intercepted by L’Jarius Sneed at the Kansas City 5.
Third-down woes hurt the Packers
A big contributor to Green Bay’s offensive struggles was its inability to convert third downs. The Packers only ran the ball once on third down, instead relying on Love’s arm on the other 11 attempts.
Love was 3 of 9 passing on third down for 17 yards, with an interception. He was also sacked once and fumbled on another (he recovered the fumble).
It wasn’t until the Packers’ final possession, when they scored a touchdown, that Green Bay converted its two third downs of the game.
The Packers’ average down and distance was a third-and-7, with three third-down situations 10 yards or more and only one needing three or fewer yards to convert.
“They were bringing the all-out, they were eating us up and we just weren’t able to execute on those plays that we had against it,” Love said about the pressure he faced. “I think all it took was maybe one big play against it, and it wouldn’t have been coming as much. Obviously, we weren’t able to execute it, so that’s why they kept bringing it.”
While Love misfired on a fourth-and-5 in the first half in Chiefs territory, he converted the team’s other two fourth-down attempts, both on the Packers’ final possession. On the first, he hit Adams for a 2-yard gain on fourth-and-1, and the other came on Lazard’s touchdown catch on a fourth-and-5 at the Kansas City 20.
“Obviously, not good enough,” Love said about his overall performance. “I think we started off a little slow; I started off a little slow, personally. I think we got into a bit of a rhythm later. Obviously it was too late. Just not good enough.”
What positives Love showed in his first start
Love showed poise and patience despite the Packers facing a double-digit deficit for much of the second half, and he got into a bit of a rhythm late in the game, evidenced by the Packers putting up 121 yards of total offense on their two fourth-quarter drives.
On the team’s final drive, Love fought through the constant pressure and completed 3 of 8 passes for 40 yards. He found Randall Cobb for a short pass amid a collapsing pocket on a third-and-10, and Cobb ran for the first down on a 15-yard gain to keep the drive alive.
Kansas City kept the pressure coming, and on a third-and-5 at the Chiefs 20, Love had to throw early to Adams in the end zone with a defender in his face, resulting in a pass being batted down at the goal line.
Love responded, though, by throwing his first touchdown pass as a pro, taking a few steps back on a fourth-and-5 play and, with two defenders closing in, hitting Lazard around the Kansas City 8. Lazard then ducked under the tackle attempt of the Chiefs’ Daniel Sorensen and ran in for the 20-yard score.
A couple other observations about Love’s passing game:
- Love got Green Bay into scoring position twice in the first half, but both times the Packers missed field goals — one wide left and another was blocked — after drives that covered 53 and 18 yards, respectively.
- Love had six completions of 15 or more yards, including three of 20 or more. In the first half, he threw a 35-yard pass to Cobb that got Green Bay into Kansas City territory, and another time, Love connected with running back AJ Dillon for a 21-yard pass when the Packers were backed up to their own 2-yard line.
“I was really proud of the way he played,” LaFleur said of Love. “He hung in there, he was taking hits and delivering the ball. I thought he did a really good job. But I think that, ultimately, I’ve got to be better and this one falls squarely on me.”
How Love’s first start compares to previous Packers quarterbacks
Green Bay has benefited from having two quarterbacks — Brett Favre and Rodgers — be longtime starters for the franchise over the past three decades. Here’s how those two played in their first starts for the Packers, per Pro Football Reference:
- Favre: Sept. 27, 1992 — completed 14 of 19 passes for 210 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 17-3 win over Pittsburgh. Favre also had four carries for 12 yards and was sacked twice for a total loss of 15 yards.
- Rodgers: Sept. 8, 2008 — completed 18 of 22 passes for 178 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in a 24-19 win over Minnesota. Rodgers also had eight carries for 35 yards and a touchdown and was not sacked.
Of note, Favre’s first start came in his second NFL season, like Love, while Rodgers’ came in his fourth pro season.
Could Love start again?
The biggest question going forward is when Rodgers will be available to play, and if Love would need to start again in the interim. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Monday morning that Rodgers is eligible to come off the COVID-19 list on Saturday, which would give him a chance to play in Green Bay’s game against Seattle on Sunday.