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Packers' Matt LaFleur after Jordan Love's two-interception outing vs. 49ers: 'This one's gonna hurt him'

The Packers' first attempt at postseason glory in the Jordan Love era is over.

Riding a four-game winning streak and a personal heater that stretched back to midseason, Love again showed flashes of a slam-dunk franchise quarterback on Saturday, but an eventual reversion to his early-season struggles -- highlighted by two interceptions -- doomed Green Bay to a familiar 24-21 Divisional Round loss at the hands of the 49ers.

"As a leader of this team, I know this one's gonna hurt him," Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said of his QB. "I'm sure he'll be really hard on himself. And he's just got to use it as fuel to continue to get better. But I think we saw so much growth throughout the course of the season. Not only from his ability to go out there and play consistent, winning football, but also I think he grew as a leader. I think that's very important to be the franchise quarterback that I expect him to be for a long time around here."

Love entered the game having thrown for 2,422 yards, 21 touchdowns and just one interception since Week 10, a stretch, including a wild-card playoff win, that showed a tremendous leap in development compared to his first nine games started, when he had 2,009 passing yards for 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, including three multi-pick outings.

He and the Packers played San Francisco as well as could be expected for the league's youngest team, a No. 7 seed on the road with a shot at the NFC title game.

The 25-year-old QB played a prominent role in that, throwing for 194 yards, two touchdowns and the two picks on 21-of-34 passing.

Aside from a kneel-down to run out the first half, Green Bay reached the red zone on each of its first five drives, scoring two field goals, turning it over on downs on a thwarted QB sneak and adding two third-quarter touchdowns to open up a lead that would hold until the game's final minutes.

Aaron Jones set the tone on the way to his fifth consecutive 100-yard rushing game, becoming the first to eclipse the century mark against the 49ers in 50 games (playoffs included), while Love initially used Jones' efforts as a springboard.

He hit a number of tight-window throws early and accounted for both of Green Bay's touchdowns with a 19-yarder to a Bo Melton and a 2-yard toss to Tucker Kraft, which he followed up with a successful two-point conversion throw to Jones.

But instead of building on a newfound 21-14 lead after the vastly improved Green Bay defense forced the Niners into a subsequent three-and-out, Love tightened as the clock ticked down toward the fourth quarter.

On a third-and-11 from the Packers' 48-yard line, the 49ers dropped back into coverage and offered up whatever Love wanted underneath.

He spotted Kraft open for what would likely be stopped short, but Love made a potential stall and punt to play the field-position game far worse by zipping a pass above and behind his tight end, who tipped the ball into 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw's hands for an interception.

"The one to Tucker, I missed it," Love explained. "I was a little bit behind him. He was running a crossing route. Missed it, and it obviously got tipped up. Picked."

The 49ers converted the turnover into a field goal.

The Packers went three-and-out on their next drive and later wasted a 53-yard run from Jones by stalling out for an Anders Carlson 41-yard field-goal try that went left.

After Brock Purdy took the opening and switched into killer mode to march 69 yards for a go-ahead score, 1:07 remained for a Packers game-winning drive.

Love had an opportunity to play the hero as his predecessors Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers so often did.

But after picking up an initial first down, Love again chose the head-scratching route he'd avoided so often in weeks past.

With two timeouts and the ball at his own 36-yard line, Love found himself flushed out right. Instead of throwing the ball away or attempting an escape for a few extra yards to live another down, he uncorked an off-balance prayer back across the middle of the field into a sea of red.

Greenlaw again came down with the interception, this time to seal the game.

"Looking back on it, yeah, throw it away," Love said of his final play. "I don't know if I had an opportunity to maybe run. Get out of bounds. But, you know, forced it across the middle late, which is a mortal sin, and it cost us."

The decision and the throw was reminiscent of the quarterback Love was when he was barely treading water in this season's early going, which is fitting considering his 72.4 passer rating was his lowest since Week 9, the game before he began his torrid stretch.

Much like his game-ending interceptions against the Raiders in Week 5 and Broncos in Week 6, things were dire, but other options could have and should have been taken.

What resulted was Green Bay's fifth straight postseason loss to San Francisco dating back to the 2013 season.

Unlike some of those other playoff defeats to the Niners -- namely Rodgers' last two, in 2019 and 2021 -- this doesn't mark the bitter end of an era or a potential slamming shut of a championship window.

There's even the possibility it serves as the opening of a new one, earned through playoff heartbreak and a lesson learned.

"That was the message in the locker room with all our talks right now," Love said when asked if Green Bay's roster is the type that can use such a loss to fuel them next year. "Guys were stepping up saying how motivating it is to be able to attack the offseason now. And how motivated we'll be by this loss. Who knows what the group will look like next year, things like that, but everyone in the locker room is motivated to get back after it."

The only thing for certain, though, is the season is over for the 2023 Packers, and it came to an end on an ugly interception by Love.

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