On the offensive line, the Green Bay Packers lacked their Pro Bowlers at left tackle and left guard. Injuries also zapped away playmaking runner Aaron Jones and Christian Watson, their gifted receiver. So, all Jordan Love did Sunday in Atlanta against the Falcons was produce three touchdowns despite throwing to a pair of rookies, and he finished with a passer rating of 113.5 after competing 14 of 25 passes for 151 yards.
What the Pittsburgh Steelers have done with NFL head coaches since 1969 (Chuck Noll, then Bill Cowher, then Mike Tomlin) is what the Green Bay Packers have done with starting quarterbacks since 1993 (Brett Favre, then Aaron Rodgers, then Love).
Those guys earned at least one Super Bowl ring, and they ranked among the elite of their peers.
OK, not Love, but just wait. His Lombardi Trophy is coming, along with his fame involving a storied franchise that Forbes said made a record $610 million in revenue last season.
That’s why sports historians won’t dwell on Love starting only his third NFL game during this particular afternoon in which the Packers choked away a 24-12 lead to the Falcons in the fourth quarter for a 25-24 loss.
Love contributed to the meltdown.
Inside the final six minutes, with the Packers seeking to stop the charging Falcons, Love attempted a quarterback sneak for a first down on 4th-and-1, but he never got the snap.
“I messed that operation up,” Love told reporters, recalling how the Packers had to punt, which contributed to the Falcons hustling downfield for the game-winning points. “I said the wrong thing. It’s not a play until I give the ‘live’ word. I gave the wrong live word, and I just messed it up.”
Still, with the Falcons ahead by one, the Packers had a final chance to overcome themselves, but Love ended the game with four straight incompletions.
No worries, and never mind Love was a backup so far behind Rodgers during his previous three years in the league that he started just once.
Who cares Love appeared in only 10 games entering this season after Rodgers and his 10 Pro Bowl trips, four NFL Most Valuable Player awards and pending Pro Football Hall of Fame bust were off to the New York Jets?
You also can yawn over Love’s 83 passes during that stretch producing as many interceptions as touchdowns.
Jordan Alexander Love has it. Despite his uneven moments against the Falcons, you could feel it, and you could see it.
Love has enough of “it” to make Packers officials omniscient — you know, again (see Favre and Rodgers) — when it comes to starting quarterbacks, especially since those running the NFL’s only publicly owned franchise masterfully crafted Love’s contract during the spring when hardly anybody outside of Wisconsin was looking.
Let’s start with Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst.
With Love’s standard four-year rookie deal entering its last season (after he signed it following the 2020 NFL Draft as the 26th pick overall out of Utah State), Gutekunst was asked by reporters after this year’s draft in April why his team wasn’t picking up the fully guaranteed fifth-year option for Love worth $20.272 million.
“It’s a lot of money for a guy who hasn’t played,” said Gutekunst, who traded 39-year-old Rodgers to the Jets weeks before that. Then the GM returned to his seldomly used backup quarterback to say of Love: “But, at the same time, obviously we’re moving forward with him.”
Well, Packers officials got creative while reaching for their checkbook, and both sides compromised with a contract extension.
Love was pleased since he went from his rookie deal with a base salary this year of around $2.3 million to an incentive-filled contract for 2023 that could give him nearly $22.5 million ($13.5 million of that amount is guaranteed). The Packers were pleased since they weren’t obligated to pay Love after this season.
The bottom line for Gutekunst and other Packers officials: If this native of Bakersfield, California of 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds is a bust, they can grab his replacement from the 2024 NFL draft.
Love isn’t a bust.
For verification, ask the befuddled Falcons defenders about Love’s strong and accurate arm, quick enough legs and flashes of possessing a splendid football mind at 24. Then there were the Bears defenders during the previous week in Chicago, where Love and the Packers won 38-20 during that season opener for both teams. He also had three touchdown passes in that game, and his passer rating was 123.2 after completing 15 of 27 passes for 245 yards.
If Love continues at this pace, he’ll negotiate a deal after the season for massive bucks with the Packers or with somebody else.
More likely, Gutekunst and his lieutenants will do what they did with Rodgers in 2008 during his first season as their starter after backing up Favre for three seasons. They saw enough by that October to give Rodgers an unprecedented deal back then — a six-year extension for $63 million, with $20 million guaranteed against injury and a signing bonus of over $7 million.
That will resemble the NFL’s version of the Kmart Blue Light Special compared to Love’s extension with the Packers by Christmas.
Did I say Christmas?
I meant to say by Thanksgiving.