Green Bay Packers' Jordan Love 'dinged' in first half of uneven pro debut

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Jordan Love was neither spectacular nor an abject failure in his first professional start at quarterback. No, the Green Bay Packers' heir apparent was exactly what he has been through the offseason and training camp: uneven.

In his first game action of any kind in 567 days, Love expertly crafted one touchdown drive sandwiched between six other drives that produced one first down in Saturday's 26-7 preseason-opening loss to the Houston Texans at Lambeau Field.

Coach Matt LaFleur cut short Love's night after the first half. He had planned to let his quarterback play into the third quarter but changed his mind after Love was "dinged" -- the word both LaFleur and Love used -- around his right arm and shoulder on his sack-fumble late in the second quarter. Love played one more series to close the half, but every play was a run.

Love said the injury "just kind of feels like a little strain-ish." He said he would meet with the medical staff on Sunday but did not believe it would impact his playing time the rest of the preseason. The Packers were not planning to play Aaron Rodgers at all this preseason.

"It was obviously just a precautionary reason, but I think I'll be ready to go next week," Love said.

Love directed the Packers' only scoring drive of the game in the loss. But what a drive it was: six straight completions on the nine-play, 88-yard march that ended with his first professional touchdown pass.

After a pair of three-and-outs that featured incompletions on two third-and-5 plays on the opening drives, Love got rolling:

  • 34 yards to tight end Jace Sternberger on a third-and-9 seam route.

  • 8 yards to Devin Funchess on a stop route.

  • 10 yards on a roped slant to Malik Taylor on third-and-4.

  • 15 more to Funchess, who made a one-handed grab on a crosser.

  • After no gain on a short rollout to Sternberger, Love looped a screen pass to rookie running back Kylin Hill, who took it 22 yards for a touchdown.

Not long after, Love was the top trending topic on Twitter.

On all other drives, Love went 6-of-11 for 33 yards and the sack-fumble that LaFleur absolved him of given the breakdown on the offensive line.

Love's final numbers: 12-of-17 for 122 yards, one touchdown and one lost fumble for a 110.4 rating.

"If there's one thing to just encourage him to continue to do is just, 'Hey man, you got to let that sucker rip,'" LaFleur said. "When you see it, trust what you see. Don't worry about being perfect. Don't worry about throwing a perfect on-target pass. When you do that, you're not as accurate. You've got to let the ball go, but by and large, I think he did a really nice job."

Love said he could've done that better on the 15-yarder to Funchess, which he said could've been a bigger play.

Love didn't have the benefit of playing with either of the starting offensive tackles or any of the top receivers. In fact, the Packers gave 30 players the night off and played only three-depth chart starters: right guard Lucas Patrick, rookie center Josh Myers and inside linebacker Krys Barnes.

Although a much smaller sample size, Love's debut followed the script of his offseason practices -- when he got all the starter reps while Rodgers skipped everything in Green Bay -- and the first 12 open practices of training camp. There were days when Love showed pinpoint accuracy and found a rhythm and others when he missed throws and couldn't move the team.

Perhaps that was to be expected in his first game action since the Senior Bowl on Jan. 25, 2020. The pandemic wiped out his rookie preseason, and he never even put on his No. 10 game jersey last year; he was inactive for all 16 regular-season games and the Packers' two playoff games as the third-stringer. Love is now the No. 2 quarterback and Kurt Benkert, who played the entire second half, is the only other signal-caller on the roster.

Rodgers was seen talking with Love on several occasions between series as they reviewed the still photos that are available to players on the sideline during the game.

"I wouldn't tell him a whole lot; I just like looking at the pictures and seeing if there's anything we might have missed on the pictures," Rodgers said on the Packers television broadcast. "I thought Jordan did a really nice job. He was efficient throwing the ball, he took what was there. The key for him and any young quarterback is footwork. And if you watched him tonight on many of the plays where he threw the ball really efficiently, he was throwing on the right hitch or no hitch, and that's when quarterbacks get in a rhythm. That looked good to me."

It was a more productive debut than Rodgers' first preseason game on Aug. 11, 2005. He replaced Brett Favre and completed just 2-of-6 passes for 7 yards and got sacked twice.

One drive, one game or even one preseason won't impact Love's career path, but how the Packers' 2020 first-round pick (remember, they traded up to pick him at No. 26) handles this preseason -- when Rodgers isn't expected to take a single game snap -- might ultimately factor into what happens at quarterback in 2022.

"I think it just gives us something to go back and look at and learn from it," Love said of his debut. "See what little mistakes we made here and there and obviously what things we did well and be able to build from it going to next week and do it again."