KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur lamented not having a good enough plan. His quarterback, Jordan Love, emphasized that he needed to play better. There were other players who mentioned missed opportunities and critical miscues, but the bottom line is the Packers didn't do right by their second-year signal-caller. This was a game where he deserved far more assistance than he received.
Love's first NFL start Sunday ended with a 13-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The outcome easily could've gone the other way if not for a series of special teams mistakes that killed the Packers. Green Bay had one missed field goal, watched another one blocked and also allowed the Chiefs to recover a muffed punt return inside the Packers' 10-yard line late in the second quarter. Those types of errors will ruin the debut of any young quarterback in this league.
Love might be more willing to accept that at some later date. After Sunday's game, he was more critical of his play and his inability to overcome those setbacks while attempting to replace starter Aaron Rodgers.
"It's not good enough," Love said when asked to assess his performance. "We started off a little slow. I started off a little slow, personally. I got into a bit of a rhythm later, but obviously, it was too late."
We knew this game was going to be all about Love. As much as the Chiefs are trying to build momentum after a sluggish start to their own season, the Packers were far more intriguing because Rodgers couldn't play in this contest after contracting COVID-19. The quarterback situation in Green Bay has been a provocative topic ever since the team selected Love 26th overall in the 2020 draft, and Rodgers spent most of this past offseason fuming over years of what he considered disrespectful treatment by the organization. This was the contest that would give us some indication of why Love was worth that investment in the first place.
Love claimed he wasn't good enough on Sunday, but in many ways, he was. He wasn't going to walk into this situation and throw for 400 yards and three touchdowns. The more likely scenario was exactly what played out. He'd look awful at times, uncomfortable at others and mix in some flashes of promise somewhere in between for a team that just fell to 7-2 on the season.
Love wound up with decent numbers for a debut, as he completed 19 of 34 passes for 190 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The Packers often fizzled on third downs -- converting just two of their 12 opportunities -- but that also had plenty to do with the relentless blitzing Love faced from the Chiefs. This is where LaFleur said he let down his quarterback. When Love was asked to sit in the pocket and make throws against such intense pressure, he often failed.
Love ultimately found more momentum with shorter, safer throws in the second half, as he led the Packers on their only scoring drive of the game in the fourth quarter. That series ended with him throwing a 20-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Allen Lazard with 4:54 left in the game.
"Within plays, there are longer-developing plays, and if you can't protect, it's kind of hard to throw from your back," LaFleur said. "There were a couple plays where he got out of some stuff … but I'm disappointed that we didn't deal the ball faster and call things that might show a little bit quicker for him."
LaFleur should've been more critical of his kicking game. The most he would say was that the Packers "could've used the six points" that didn't come from those missed field goals and that his team pretty much gave the Chiefs another field goal with that muffed punt return (Packers wide receiver Malik Taylor fell down and had the football skip off his right foot before Chiefs cornerback Chris Lammons recovered it at the Packers' 10-yard line).
The Packers' defense did its part, limiting the Chiefs to just 237 total yards, the lowest amount since Patrick Mahomes became Kansas City's starting quarterback in 2018. There were plays that Love surely wanted to have back -- such as when Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed muscled a pass away from Davante Adams for an interception -- but that stuff is going to happen to novice signal-callers. The more promising aspect of Love's performance was his toughness. He took several hits from Kansas City's pressure and didn't wilt in the second half.
If anything, he gave his team a chance to win in the fourth quarter because of his poise.
"The environment, the amount of pressure, the hits he took, standing in there and still delivering the ball and giving us an opportunity at the end of the game, he showed a lot of resilience," LaFleur said. "And that's a great quality to have in a quarterback."
This could be the last time we see Love this season. Per the NFL's COVID protocol, Rodgers must quarantine for 10 days from the date of his positive test, which means he could be eligible to return in time for Green Bay's game against Seattle next Sunday. Love will still be in a position to practice with the first-team offense this week, because Saturday is the earliest Rodgers can return to the field. However, LaFleur acknowledged the obvious -- that Rodgers is more than capable of playing a game without being involved in practice during the week.
We also learned a few things about Love. The game appeared to be too fast for him early, but then his mobility and arm strength allowed him to make plays off script when the moment required such improvisation. He's a long way from giving Packers fans a reason to ponder the possibilities once Rodgers moves on. He's also not a train wreck, which would've been apparent in a marquee game like this.
"You never know when that opportunity is going to come and I got it today," Love said. "Obviously, we had a lot of chances. Defense played a really good game and gave us a lot of chances. That's what is most disappointing. I wasn't able to execute, and we weren't able to finish and get more points on the board early."
That is a predictable reaction in a moment like this. Love is a competitor, and he's well aware of the situation he's been placed in. There's little doubt he wanted to come into this contest and leave a strong impression on anybody who saw him play. He probably needed to prove a few things to himself after playing hardly any football over the past 17 months.
It likely will be a good amount of time before we see him again. There also will be the looming question of what happens to Rodgers after this season ends. Love didn't do enough to make that predicament any easier to figure out once it arrives. What he did do was learn a powerful lesson that will help him in the long run: Every quarterback needs plenty of help to win at this level.