Jordan Love lights up Bears to punch ticket to postseason
For the second straight year, the Packers needed to beat a division rival playing for nothing to reach the playoffs. This time, Jordan Love delivered where Aaron Rodgers could not.
The Green Bay Packers are heading to the playoffs thanks to an impressive 17-9 win over the Chicago Bears in Week 18, exorcising the demons of last year’s disastrous performance against the Detroit Lions in another win-and-in scenario. Don’t think it will go unnoticed Jordan Love delivered a gem a year after Aaron Rodgers delivered a dud in the same scenario.
Today's edition of The Leap looks at this incredible debut season from Love, a defensive wrinkle that produced clutch play, and a storyline check ahead of the Packers’ wild-card matchup with the Dallas Cowboys.
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Jordan Love cemented his standing, not just as the Packers quarterback, but as one of the best young QBs in the league. What stands out most about Love’s improvement?
Peter Bukowski: Jordan Love learned to control the chaos whether originate from himself, the outside world, narratives, defenses, or even his teammates not being in the right place.
Last week, Love played the most complete game of his young career from a mental perspective, identifying and calmly dissecting the No. 1 chaos agent defensive coordinator in the NFL, the Minnesota Vikings’ Brian Flores. Love had every answer for Flores’ comprehensive blitz packages; the Vikings are just as likely to blitz everyone as they are to drop everyone in coverage.
Love read Flores’ mail.
Bears head coach and defensive play-caller Matt Eberflus takes a different approach. He doesn’t blitz and doesn’t disguise nearly as much, but his teams tend to play disciplined. Chicago didn’t Sunday thanks in part to Love’s calm, cool handling of the game plan. Green Bay wanted to attack down the field, going after the middle against a team that plays the second-most Cover 2 in the NFL.
Love would come to the line, identify the pre-snap look, and find the right play to get to, much like his predecessor under center.
He showed that development on a key third-down play in the red zone while leading by just a point. Green Bay got the line early so Love could survey the defense. He got to the play he wanted, calling out the check at the line, then hit wideout Dontayvion Wicks in rhythm for what would have been a first down … if Wicks hadn’t scored.
That would be enough. But wait, there’s more. Love’s controlled aggression outside of play structure has become a weapon for him to use against opponents rather than the ball of chaos we saw for stretches early in the season. He’s consistently playing patiently outside of structure, not forcing balls into coverage and getting to his answers on second and third reads, all while displaying special talent off-platform.
The other Wicks touchdown shows that side of his game.
Green Bay goes play-action and Love has to wait to find an open receiver. He scans to his right, waits, fades back, and throws a one-footed floater to Wicks who was slicing across the end zone from left to right. It was a perfect throw, much like the one to Bo Melton a week ago.
Maybe he didn’t have to throw it off one foot, but it’s a nice trick to have in the bag.
How much credit does Joe Barry deserve for the performance of his defense on Sunday?
PB: We can’t wail and gnash our teeth when Joe Barry plays his cornerbacks in De Pere and then not give credit where it’s due. There was at least one beautiful wrinkle Barry threw at Bears quarterback Justin Fields for which the embattled Packers DC deserves credit: He brought a handful of five-man pressure looks while playing man coverage behind it.
And it worked. The pressure got home in clutch moments, the Packers sacked Fields five times, and the defensive front impacted the game repeatedly. Green Bay ended three drives with sacks, two more on pass breakups (one a near interception by Carrington Valentine), and another thanks to disruption from Preston Smith on a screen pass.
It’s hard to play man coverage against Fields because he can beat you with his legs. Pairing the coverage with a five-man rush speeds up Fields’ processing while closing down his potential rush lanes. That takes away his best tool while playing on his biggest weakness.
That said, the game overall felt more about the players winning than the coach. Karl Brooks, Devonte Wyatt, and Kenny Clark all got sacks, and only one of them was truly a schemed-up call (Clark’s). Rashan Gary dominated his matchup with rookie Darnell Wright and, speaking of rookies, Lukas Van Ness once again got in on the action with Fields.
When the interior rush in particular plays like this, the defense can play safe and off on the back end without fear of retribution. Green Bay also got the Bears into a slew of third-and-long scenarios and, while they did get gashed on the opening drive by wideout D.J. Moore for a 33-yard chunk, overall the Packers held Fields under 150 yards passing.
A rush like this from Brooks can’t be credited to Barry. This is just a rookie beating his guy cold and finishing the play in a huge spot. Nothing fancy here.
Green Bay held the Bears under 10 points for the first time all season, stifled Chicago for just 192 total yards, and would have played well enough to earn a dominating win if the offense hadn’t spit the bit in the red zone a couple more times.
Barry did just enough to get an “atta boy,” but this is a bad quarterback with one true NFL receiver out there. This is how the Packers defense is supposed to play.
What Packers-Cowboys storyline are you most looking forward to?
PB: Where do we even begin with this one? Aaron Rodgers owned the Cowboys, especially in Dallas where he’s still never lost. Don’t forget, that includes a Super Bowl title and the site of the signature Rodgers play: the quarterback’s galloping throw to Jared Cook to set up the game-winner against Dallas back in the 2016 season. His ownership of the Bears seemed to transfer to Love, will Love get the deed to AT&T Stadium as well?
Then, there’s Mike McCarthy. You remember him, right? The guy who returned the Packers franchise to its former glory as a World Champion and coached Rodgers to two MVP awards. He’s also the guy who choked away at least one Super Bowl chance with an inglorious performance in the 2014 NFC Championship Game.
He’s searching for playoff answers in Dallas now as well and it could be the Packers who, if they stun the Cowboys, could write the end to his chapter under Jerry Jones.
Or there’s Love following in the footsteps of Rodgers against Rodgers’ old coach and we wrap all these storylines into one. Following that duo, playing in the shadow of those two great figures in Packers history, may be oppressive to other players. But Love's performance on Sunday -- 37-32 for 316 yards and two touchdowns -- suggests a player who can handle these moments.
Even if the Packers lose, the performance by Love is the story, not just because it’s in the playoffs, but because of who it’s against. Where the game is. All the history these two teams share. If this was the Philadelphia Eagles, maybe we would mention the 2010 corollaries, or if they got the No. 6 seed and played the Lions, we could talk about playing for who truly owns the North. But given the stakes, the players involved, and all the history, this game is about how Love performs in a remarkable context.
And we’ve seen him thrive in it before. In fact, we just did.
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