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Jordan Love, Packers are just getting started. Green Bay’s future is very bright

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The Green Bay Packers were playing with house money and against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in the divisional round of the NFC Playoffs. Ultimately, it ran out. Green Bay lost 24-21.

It really was that close. In a game in which the Packers were the overwhelming underdogs, there were six lead changes. Green Bay kept pace with one of the NFL’s best teams. Head coach Matt LaFleur dueled admirably with his mentor, Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan.

But Jordan Love’s penchant for throwing his chips up and letting them fall where they may finally caught up with him. With 52 seconds left in the game, two timeouts left and 25-30 yards to go to give rookie kicker Anders Carlson a shot at a game-tying field goal, Love threw a ball downfield across his body, off his back foot, while on the run. It was picked off.

Call it the arrogance of youth.

To be fair, that sort of play has mostly worked out for Love this season — and Carlson had missed a 41-yard kick on the previous drive. I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to see Love step into a throw. He’s still getting experience, figuring out when he’s got a chance or when the house is stacked against him.

“Part of the reason it stings so bad is we fully believed and fully expected to win,” said LaFleur after the game. “Felt like we had plenty of opportunities to put the game out of reach and unfortunately didn’t do enough.”

It almost worked out. It’s a tease that the Packers came so painfully close to pulling off an almost unfathomable upset, but any takeaways from this game, or this season as a whole, should be positive.

Green Bay wasn’t supposed to be here. This is the first post-Rodgers season with a first-year starter with all first- and second-year weapons. First, first, first. Who could have expected this? The primary thing that was supposed to come out of this season was figuring out if Green Bay’s hunch was true about a 2020 first-round pick. Would their system work yet again? Did they have their franchise guy under center?

The answer is a resounding yes. Love finished the regular season with 4,159 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He threw just three picks in his last 10 games, including the postseason. Two of those picks came against the Niners (more specifically, Dre Greenlaw). Love’s regular-season touchdowns ranked second in the league among all qualified passers. His yardage total ranked seventh.

Beyond the stats, Love showed tremendous poise. Through early and midseason chaos came Love, even-keel as ever, never getting too high or too low. He’s the picture of what you want as a franchise quarterback — a leader among men and a level head. His calmness quelled the locker room through the up-and-down waves of the season. Love brought the youngest team in the league through the storm and out the other side. 

Brock Purdy, 49ers survive vs. Jordan Love, Packers

He entered the biggest game of his young career last Sunday and destroyed a Cowboys team that had looked unbeatable at home. He picked them apart as if it was preordained, as if Love knew this would be the outcome. And after the game? As even-keel as ever, dapping up a Green Bay staffer with a low, barely audible ‘woo!’ as he walked off the field and into the tunnel at AT&T Stadium.

Love was the same after the loss to the 49ers: Stable. Constant. 

“Understanding how small the margin for error is in this league, especially in critical games like this when you win and advance, you lose and go home,” he said, reflecting on what he learned after the game. “Just how important every play is, and just how locked in you’ve got to be […] There’s so many areas, and so many lessons I’ve learned throughout this season and the team’s learned throughout this season, that I think it’s going to make us better in the future.”

In that calm and in those lessons should come excitement. The Packers made it to the divisional round of the playoffs with inexperience abound and now know what these situations are like very early on in most of their careers. Being this good this quickly should give Green Bay fans optimism and the rest of the league ulcers. 

‘NFL on FOX’ crew react to Brock Purdy, 49ers’ close victory over Jordan Love, Packers

Not only could the Packers have their third franchise quarterback with no interruption in the cycle, but they have weapons who have grown up with him all along the offense — even some on defense. It would have never worked if Love hadn’t been the guy they thought he was back in 2020. Lady Luck (and maybe a tried-and-true team-building system deployed by general manager Brian Gutekunst and Ted Thompson), is on Green Bay’s side yet again.

The Packers bet it all on Love. They hit big.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.



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