Aaron Rodgers could not play for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, and so the football world at last got to see the reason Rodgers did not want to play for the Green Bay Packers.
Jordan Love existed in the public consciousness for 18 months not as a quarterback but as a catalyst of Rodgers’ resentment toward his own organization. He was introduced on Sunday as an emergency starter who was given an unfair task in his NFL debut and failed to complete it. In an impossible situation, Love played unevenly for most of a 13-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, showing flashes of competence and leaving the Packers unsure, but perhaps not less so, about whether they chose a quarterback worth hastening Rodgers’ departure.
The Packers selected Love late in the first round of the 2020 draught, making him the heir apparent to the 30-year Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers quarterbacking dynasty. The decision, as well as the Packers’ lack of communication with Rodgers prior to making it, prompted Rodgers’ request for a trade this offseason, and the months of speculation that followed.
Rodgers eventually relented and returned to the Packers, who cruised through the season until this week, when Love found himself embroiled in Rodgers-driven drama once more. Rodgers tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday, revealing that he had not been vaccinated despite his preseason claim of being “immunized” and apparent flouting of NFL protocols.
The glimpse Love gave on Sunday was a woefully limited assessment of his potential ability to permanently replace Rodgers. However, it may be the largest sample size the Packers have before the offseason, when Rodgers may again press for a trade, forcing the Packers to decide whether Love will be their quarterback.
Love gave us both reason to hope and reason to doubt. He finished 19 of 34 passes for 190 yards. He intercepted the Packers’ best drive and threw a touchdown pass on his final pass of the game. Despite relentless blitzes from Kansas City’s defense, he only had one sack. Rodgers’ handling of his personal situation put Love in an unfavorable position. Rodgers, like more than 94 percent of NFL players, would have been less likely to contract the virus if he had been vaccinated. Love had only three days of practice plus a Saturday walk-through to prepare for his first-team quarterback debut against the defending AFC champions. Rodgers added to the distraction with a Friday interview on “The Pat MacAfee Show” in which he unloaded misinformation and grievances.
Yost could tell Love knew where he wanted to go with a pass faster than his body would allow, so he rushed the throw a few times. Love fumbled a couple of back-shoulder passes that Yost knows he usually nails. With a defender in his face on an early third down, he threw behind Adams over the middle rather than in stride, costing a conversion. Love, according to Yost, possesses the accuracy required to make the pass.
The people around him were rarely helpful. Love’s game was made more difficult by Green Bay’s special teams than it needed to be. Mason Crosby, who was working with a new long snapper, missed one field goal and had another blocked. A fumbled punt resulted in free points for the Chiefs. Because of a miscommunication with his center, Love dropped a shotgun snap on one-third down early in the third quarter that he wasn’t prepared for.
Even after a fourth-quarter interception, Love didn’t give up. He floated a sideline pass to Allen Lazard, who ducked under a tackle and scooted into the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, against another blitz from a Kansas City defense intent on pressuring him.
Love never got the ball back, and the Chiefs ran out the clock the rest of the way. He may not return to the field for a year or more, depending on how the rest of Rodgers’ career plays out. Barring any setbacks, Rodgers will be able to play next Sunday. After his inconclusive debut, Love will bide his time until he gets another chance. The league waited more than a year to see the player to whom the Packers had tied their future. Now, he’ll wait again.