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Rapid reaction: No moment too big for Packers QB Jordan Love

First-year starter stacking monster games heading into postseason

QB Jordan Love
QB Jordan Love

GREEN BAY – The Packers confirmed two immensely important items over the last couple weeks.

For one, quarterback Jordan Love can play big in big games.

For another, so can the young cast of characters around him, no matter who's involved.

Love put on a tour-de-force performance with a playoff berth at stake Sunday at Lambeau Field, throwing just five incompletions (27-of-32), surpassing 300 yards, and posting a 128.6 passer rating in the 17-9 victory over the Bears.

That's on top of the 125.3 mark from last week in primetime on the road against another division rival in Minnesota.

Talk about a strong finish, claiming an NFC Wild Card spot to boot, in his first year replacing a Hall of Fame QB in Aaron Rodgers, which came with an immense amount of pressure – pressure he didn't buckle under no matter how rough things got at certain times.

"Yeah, he's a tough-minded sucker now," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said after the gratifying win. "You know, his family did a helluva job raising him just in terms of what he's all about.

"He's about the right (stuff). Sorry for that. He's about all the right things. He's earned it."

Love said earlier in the week these are the games everybody plays for, a sign he wanted the high stakes and wouldn't be overwhelmed by them. He watched Rodgers get the Packers into the playoffs twice as his backup, play in three postseason games, and then face this very same win-to-get-in scenario a year ago.

After three years waiting in the wings, he couldn't have asked for the football gods to script it any better.

"You want to play in big-time games and, when the pressure's on, just be able to go showcase what you're made of," Love said. "It's definitely something that I was waiting for and dreaming of, and it definitely is everything that it's living up to be."

That wasn't the case a couple of months ago. Offensive struggles galore, crunch-time interceptions, frustrating losses … even when the Packers rallied from being 2-5 and then 3-6 to get back to .500, they let a couple more slip and were 6-8 with not a lot going for them.

But the team believed, in part because Love continued to believe they simply weren't as far off as they made it look sometimes.

"I think everyone knew what we were capable of," Love said. "All the games we lost were close games that we knew there was little things that we could fix that would put us over the hump to win those games.

"We were always right there in every game, so that was the thing that was easy for us to keep believing. We knew what type of team we had, what we were capable of when we executed at a high level and played our best ball."

That's what has transpired down the stretch on offense, even though Sunday's point total wasn't as high as it should've been. Love even fumbled on a scramble, a potential costly turnover that became an afterthought because the Packers are moving the ball so well. The offense is rolling, compiling more than 900 yards over the last two games.

To call that a far cry from where the Packers were in late September and through October doesn't do it justice.

Check out photos from the Week 18 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024.

"It was really tough," Love said. "But everyone just … no one blinked. No one was crying about losing. We found ways to get better."

LaFleur saw that, even if the results didn't always show it. Multiple times he's brought up the loss in Pittsburgh as a turning point, when the offense reached a newly competitive level even though the ending – late-game interceptions – was repeated from some earlier defeats.

"There were so many moments throughout the course of the year that left me optimistic that we could fight through this thing, and it was just a matter of time," LaFleur said.

"Those guys were battling for each other. I think it was pretty clear tonight, just the effort that was out there."

That effort continues despite a constantly changing lineup. At tight end, it was uplifting to see Luke Musgrave miraculously return from his lacerated kidney in less than two months, yet Tucker Kraft's ascendence moves along.

At receiver, the Packers thought they might get Christian Watson back this week, but nope. Dontayvion Wicks did return after missing 1½ games with a chest injury, but Romeo Doubs exited with a similar injury in the first quarter after a tough play in the end zone.

Meanwhile Jayden Reed, who left last week's game at halftime, keeps toughing it out to produce whenever called upon, and undrafted standouts Bo Melton and Malik Heath have proven they can answer any bell, too.

"As a receiver, you naturally want the football," LaFleur said. "But those guys, they don't really care. I mean, they're cheering on each other, they're getting excited for one another. When one guy scores they're over there celebrating together, and it's a special bond, I would say, that's been created in that room."

It's a bond that's representative of the one within an entire team that has gone through an inordinate number of ups and downs.

Green Bay's defense, after a fourth 200-yard rushing performance by an opponent (the Giants) began a three-week stretch of late-season misery, has rebounded to hold two division rivals to a total of just 19 points.

Facing a high-powered Dallas team on the road next Sunday where the Cowboys are undefeated will be the defense's, and the Packers', biggest test to date. If anybody wants to count them out, so be it.

"It's really ultimately about their ability to stay together and continue to fight," LaFleur said. "I think we are a calloused football team."

As well as one with a star-in-the-making at quarterback and an offense that seemingly has no ceiling.

"Now we're in the dance," Love said. "We're going to continue doing the same thing we've been doing and try to find ways to get better, but I like where our offense is moving. We're moving in the right direction."

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