GREEN BAY – The first one is finally out of the way, and it certainly gave Jordan Love something to build on.
The Packers' second-year quarterback made his much-anticipated preseason debut Saturday night, and while Love left Lambeau Field with a couple of regrettable plays and a throwing shoulder that needs further examination, he got a solid performance under his belt as he moves forward.
"He made really solid decisions," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said of Love's outing in the Packers' 26-7 loss to the Texans. "A couple of balls I think he's gotta just let it rip a little bit more and try not to aim it.
"But I thought overall, just the command, it was a pretty clean operation, which is a positive."
After back-to-back three-and-outs to start the game, Love put together the Packers' only scoring drive of the night, hitting tight end Jace Sternberger deep down the middle for 34 yards on third-and-9 to get things going.
After four more consecutive completions, a screen pass to rookie running back Kylin Hill broke for a 22-yard touchdown, and an impressive 6-for-6 drive ended the right way.
"It was a slow start," Love said. "But then I think we started getting into a little bit of a groove on offense.
"Being able to convert that first third down helped a lot. We got that momentum going and got rolling from there."
Unfortunately, the run game never found its footing, and a couple of miscues in the passing game followed. Love turned the wrong way on a fourth-and-2 play-action call, leading to an incompletion, and then just before halftime he got strip-sacked from the blind side.
LaFleur said the blame for the turnover was two-fold, with the protection breaking down and Love taking too deep a drop. Getting his arm hit while trying to throw also "dinged" his shoulder, and LaFleur decided to rest him the second half rather than play the third quarter as originally planned.
Love said he was held out for precautionary reasons and doesn't think he'll have any issues, but the shoulder will get looked at further by the medical staff on Sunday.
He ended his night 12-of-17 for 122 yards with a touchdown and 110.4 passer rating in his first game action of any kind since the Senior Bowl in January of 2020, three months before the Packers traded up to draft him in the first round.
Lambeau Field hosted a preseason game between the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021.
"There was a lot of buildup for me to get out on the field," Love said. "It's obviously really hard to go without playing a live game that long.
"It just gives us something to go back and look at and learn from it."
Love's job wasn't any easier due to the lack of a running game, while Houston's ground game was churning out rushing yards to the tune of a 170-49 advantage.
LaFleur also lamented some of the Texans' passes, particularly from Tyrod Taylor and Davis Mills, being a little too easy to complete as Houston took a 13-7 halftime lead.
"They flat won the battle up front," said LaFleur, who chose to rest the vast majority of the starters, suggesting that could be his approach the entire preseason. "You gotta be able to run the ball.
"On the back end, I think we can be a little bit stickier in coverage. There was too much separation."
The special teams didn't have the desired debut either, allowing two significant punt returns, while rookie Amari Rodgers muffed a punt near his own goal line that he recovered himself.
No. 3 quarterback Kurt Benkert started hot with three straight completions but then botched a handoff for a turnover and later forced a throw into coverage that was picked off. He finished 8-of-12 for 88 yards.
"There's a lot of great film for us to watch and evaluate," LaFleur said. "There's a lot to clean up."
On the positive side, veteran receiver Devin Funchess – playing for the first time since Week 1 of the 2019 season – led all players with six receptions for 70 yards.
As Funchess makes his bid for a roster spot, he could be key for Love in the upcoming preseason games as a reliable, trustworthy target. LaFleur wants Love to cut it loose more and "trust what you see," and Funchess could play a big part in Love finding that kind of rhythm.
"Two years is a long time not to play this game," LaFleur said of Funchess, though he also made the same reference regarding Love. "I thought he did what he needed to do. We tried to put him in position to make plays and he came through."