Jordan Love has 11 games to keep his starting job. If there was anything we learned about the NFL on Sunday, it was that reality.
You can’t drop an ugly 19-17 loss to a woeful Denver Broncos team — failing with the ball and the game in your hands — and not trigger a hunt for cracks of doubt that aren’t hard to find. Anyone who has watched Love’s odyssey closely with the Green Bay Packers knows the fissures well: three years of backup duty behind Aaron Rodgers and nobody inside the franchise really selling stock in Love being the next sure thing; the occasional game appearances that became more about flashes of talent than significant strides of growth; this latest offseason, when head coach Matt LaFleur beat back expectations and pled for patience; and now, three straight losses that took a promising start and regressed it back toward the league’s lower third of starting quarterbacks.
That’s what Love looked like on Sunday: A bottom-third starter, at best, showcasing a continued lack of deep-throw accuracy and questionable decisions. His mediocre box score stats against Denver? They look better than the reality, if you consider how his two touchdown passes unfolded. The first, he floated a pop fly to a briefly open Romeo Doubs in the end zone that allowed Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II to recover and effectively intercept the ball in a jointly possessed catch. By rule, the catch was awarded to Doubs, due to the dual possession always going to the offensive player. Love’s second touchdown was even more improbably lucky, as he side-armed an ill-advised short-area fastball that was a beat behind Doubs. The ball skipped off the wideout’s hands on the fourth-and-2 throw, but was snared in unbelievable fashion by rookie receiver Jayden Reed, who was crossing directly behind the play.
Eventually, that luck ran out and Love put on a display of why the Packers have to continue to be worried about where this is going. With just under two minutes left and Green Bay facing a third-and-20, Love took a snap and locked onto Samori Toure on a deep vertical route, throwing into double coverage for an easy interception. What he missed on the same play was a streaking Reed who had gotten behind safety help and a leaking running back in the left flat who had a shot to run to run for a first down. Instead, Love took the worst option and the game was over.
The recap is important because it has been a microcosm of Love in a three-game losing streak that is starting to look like he may be precisely the middling player he’s showcasing. And if we’re being honest here, that's likely why the Packers hedged their bets in the offseason and awarded him an extension through 2024 that pays him like a backup next season. In their worst-case scenario, this is the Love they thought they might be investing in. The same one they looked at for three years as a backup and weren’t quite sure what they had. The same one they looked at this offseason and didn’t know what they had. And the same one they’re looking at now, and likely starting to understand what they have.
Let’s frame all of that economically. If the Packers didn’t know what Love was after three years as a backup … and didn’t know what he was after this offseason … and if they don’t know what he is 11 games from now … then they know exactly what he isn’t.
A long-term starter.
I say all of this having recently laid out a case for Love a few weeks ago, pointing out that he doesn’t have the same veteran pieces around him that Rodgers did when he finally got over the hump in his first year as a starter. But in this three-game losing streak, Love has begun showing an inability to make the right decisions when they should be easier than they are. After all, he isn’t a rookie. He’s had years of mental work up to this point. He’s had multiple offseasons in the passing program. He had years of preseason games while Rodgers was a healthy scratch. And yet he keeps making decisions that look like someone who is still picking up the nuances of playing quarterback at this level. Not to mention general ball placement and deep accuracy that isn’t helping the young players around him.
Is the timeline still there to change this trajectory? Absolutely. We’ve seen plenty of quarterbacks find a groove in the back half of a schedule and give themselves enough momentum going into the offseason to keep management from changing the blueprint. But that’s all Love has left. Going into a fifth season of his career and hoping for a revelation would be malpractice by the front office and coaching staff in Green Bay. Particularly if the past five games are revealing the Packers and Love for what they are.
Green Bay is 1-4 in that span, with the lone win coming in an 18-17 victory over a New Orleans Saints team that was leading 17-0 in the fourth quarter. Love looked bad for the vast majority of that game, then put together a thrilling fourth quarter. Aside from that, the experience has been little more than bad offensive football. And you can only point to the pieces around Love for so long. He can’t be in the middle of the problem so consistently and not begin to look like the root of it.
When you pull back, you see a 2-4 Packers team that has one commanding win: the 38-20 trouncing of the Chicago Bears, who are currently among the dregs in the league. Now they face a six-game stretch against teams that either have better records than the Packers, or considerably better offensive talent and quarterbacks. It’s very possible that Green Bay heads toward mid-December with a 2-10 record and squarely in play for a very high pick in a draft that’s going to have two very good quarterbacks.
We all know what the conversation will shift to at that point. In some respects, it’s already there now. It’s the one that sees the Packers spiraling into the No. 1 overall draft pick territory that potentially lands USC’s Caleb Williams. A race to the bottom against the Bears (2-5) and Carolina Panthers (0-6) and whoever else has begun their 2023 slide off a cliff. And even if that’s not where the Packers ultimately settle, there will be UNC quarterback Drake Maye to ponder.
The chorus that removes Love and inserts one of those two players is going to get only louder if Sunday is where Green Bay’s quarterback play is trending. There’s 11 games for Love to change that tune. Just like there were three years before this season to prepare for it.
If not “now,” “never” is the next logical progression. And unlike their starting quarterback, the Packers won’t miss it when they see it.