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Jim Polzin: Jordan Love's first career start with the Packers ended with more questions than answers

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Packers quarterback Jordan Love throws under pressure from Chiefs defensive tackle Jarran Reed during the second half Sunday in Kansas City, Mo.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ignore for a moment the controversial circumstances that led to Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love making his first career NFL start Sunday afternoon.

Just block out how you feel about Aaron Rodgers testing positive for COVID-19 and whether you respect his reasons for remaining unvaccinated or think less of him for it. That topic isn’t going away, but let’s push it aside and acknowledge that the upside was it created an opportunity for Love that otherwise may have not existed this season.

The Packers moved up in the first round of the 2020 draft to select Love because they liked his potential. In the 18 months since that surprising pick, the only way for the front office to evaluate whether it could count on him as the team’s quarterback of the future has come in practice and meaningless exhibition games in which he’s playing with fellow backups or players who didn’t even make the roster and against vanilla defenses.

Now there’s at least a game that counts in the standings, a legitimate measuring stick with 60 plays in unfriendly confines against a defense designed to rattle him. All that data from a 13-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs over what was mostly a frustrating 3 hours, 6 minutes for the Green Bay offense at Arrowhead Stadium is important.

But it also had to leave the Packers’ brass with some concerns on the team’s charter flight back to Green Bay because Love’s performance landed somewhere between inconclusive and discouraging.

Love finished 19 of 34 for 190 yards with a touchdown and an interception, a rating of 69.5. Afterward, he was asked if he thought he showed the Packers’ decision-makers enough to convince them he can be the full-time starter as early as next season if this is the only regular-season game they have as evidence.

“I have no idea about that question,” Love said.

Problem is, it’s hard to imagine that Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst and whoever else will make the critical offseason decision of whether it’s time to trade Rodgers and hand the keys to Love can answer that question, either.

Love shouldn’t be blamed for this loss. That finger should be pointed at a special teams unit that was on the negative side of a nine-point swing, missing two field goals and giving the ball away on a punt return to set up a Kansas City field goal. The Packers could have won this game even with a subpar performance from their quarterback.

But while a victory would have been good for the soul and the standings, we’d still be no closer to knowing what to expect from Love going forward.

He struggled with accuracy at times and made precious few winning plays, offering little hope that he was worth that head-scratching pick two Aprils ago. The wait for something encouraging — anything really — stretched three full quarters before Love finally found a rhythm.

Even then, it didn’t last. After completing seven consecutive passes, Love misfired on his next six attempts. One was an interception at the Kansas City 5 in which Love basically threw the ball up for grabs, praying Davante Adams would make a play.

Comparing Love to a three-time MVP isn’t fair and yet it’s going to happen for years to come if the Packers decide to move on from Rodgers, so might as well start now: Watching Love makes you appreciate Rodgers’ overall accuracy and particularly his placement on balls thrown downfield.

Love targeted Adams 14 times on Sunday but the two only connected six times for 42 yards. On a key fourth-down play late in the first half, Packers coach Matt LaFleur raced down the sideline so he could get in the ear of an official and make sure Adams wasn’t held on a sideline route.

“But it didn’t matter,” LaFleur said.

It didn’t matter because Love and Adams weren’t on the same page. Love threw to Adams’ back shoulder, while Adams wanted the ball thrown downfield.

“It’s something that takes time being able to build that chemistry,” Love said. “Obviously, it’s something him and Aaron have very well; they’ve been together for a while. So, the chemistry wasn’t there yet.”

Opponents know better than to blitz Rodgers a lot because he’ll make them pay for it more often than not. But they applied pressure on Love all game long and he reacted, well, like you’d expect a 23-year-old making his first career start to react: He went 6 of 17 for 30 yards on plays in which the Chiefs rushed at least five defenders.

“I think all it took was maybe one big play against it and it wouldn’t have been coming as much,” Love said. “Obviously we weren’t able to execute it, so that’s why they kept bringing it.”

LaFleur placed the blame on himself for not putting Love in a better position to succeed, saying, “This one falls on me, squarely.” That’s a coach trying to take heat for his young quarterback and kudos to LaFleur for doing that.

There also are things we can’t see but are good to know. When tailback Aaron Jones made a point to say after the game that he liked the way Love handled himself in the huddle, that’s important context.

But what we could see wasn’t good enough. Even Love admitted that much.

“Really disappointed,” he said. “Obviously you never know when the opportunity’s going to come.”

The only good thing to come out of a messy week for the organization — besides a win, of course — would have been for Love to offer proof that he’s a capable replacement for Rodgers in the near future. Instead, that question is no closer to being answered, a lose-lose situation for the Packers.

Contact Jim Polzin at jpolzin@madison.com.

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