Rob DemovskyESPN Staff WriterNov 21, 2023, 06:00 AM ET5 Minute Read
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Even if Jordan Love and the Green Bay Packers (4-6) take a step back on Thursday against the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions (and how can they not, given how banged up they are at running back on a short week ), it might not change the viewpoint on what the first-year starting quarterback and his young offensive dunks did Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Years from now — if Love is still the Packers’ starter and he’s still throwing to the likes of Jayden Reed, Dontayvion Wicks, Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson — the 23-20 Week 11 win at Lambeau Field might be identified as the moment when everyone knew Love was going to be “him.”
The clincher came late in the fourth quarter with the Packers trailing 20-16. Love & Co. took the field with 5:24 left. Jump-started by a Chargers’ pass interference penalty on third down, Love hit the rookie Wicks for a 35-yard catch-and-run and then lofted a 24-yard touchdown pass that the second-year pro Doubs spun around to catch for the winning score with 2:33 to play.
It capped a 322-yard, two-touchdown, zero-interception day for Love. It was his first career 300-yard game and the first by a Packers quarterback in nearly two years (Aaron Rodgers went all of the 2022 season without one).
“I think he’s just proving all of us right,” said Watson, who caught Love’s other touchdown (an 11-yarder in the third quarter). “We’ve seen what he’s capable of doing since the moment he got the starting job. Obviously, we knew that there was going to be some adversity that we were going to face and whatnot, but he just keeps on chugging along, and I think he have a bright future.”
Perhaps the most promising sign on Doubs’ score was that it was the result of a hand signal by the receiver to let Love know that, based on the coverage, he was taking his route upfield instead of to the flat, and the two pulled it off.
That might not have happened earlier in the season, when the offense couldn’t seem to get on the same wavelength. A month ago, the skill position players and the quarterbacks began holding meetings on Tuesdays (the players’ day off) to get a head start on the next opponent.
Doubs’ touchdown was Love’s third go-ahead, fourth-quarter touchdown of the season — the most by a Packers quarterback since Rodgers in 2012. They just hadn’t won each time he did it.
“I promise you there was no difference,” Doubs said. “It just came down to a few plays, honing in on the details the week before. Coming into this week, we definitely honed in on those details and got a win.”
Watson’s touchdown was another sign of the growth by the offense. A week after the Watson-Love connection faltered, they fixed it with a play that was drawn up mid-game on the sideline. Coach Matt LaFleur credited tight ends coach John Dunn with the idea, and Watson sprinted across the secondary and found himself wide open.
“There was a play earlier on that drive… and we saw something there, and I suggested a play, and then we called it and hit the coverage, and those guys went out there and executed it,” LaFleur said. “It was a great job by Christian just hauling ass across the field, and Jordan made a good throw, but certainly the credit goes to John Dunn in that situation.”
Love still might not have a go-to guy. No single pass-catcher had more than five receptions (Doubs) and none had 100 yards (Wicks had 91 on three catches).
Reed might have been their most dynamic player with 92 total yards on a combined three rushes (including a 32-yarder) and four catches. He became one of only two Packers players (Watson in 2022) in the past 40 years to have at least 40 rushing yards and 40 receiving yards in a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The sum proved greater than the parts, with the caveat being that the Chargers have the 31st-ranked defense in the NFL. And it’s not like Love was flawless. He missed tight end Luke Musgrave with a bad overthrow and underthrew a deep ball to Doubs. But at 27-of-40, he had a solid completion rate (67.5%).
For those skeptical about whether the previous week’s showing in the loss to the Steelers — when the Packers had seven plays that were longer than 20 yards — was a sign of progress, Green Bay added seven more such plays against the Chargers. They’ve had 19 plays that went for more than 20 yards in their last three games after having 19 in the first seven games combined.
“It just feels like we’re trying to find our groove right now, and we’re getting into that groove and finding that rhythm,” Love said. “Starting the game fast, eliminating the three-and-outs that are just drive-killers, limiting the turnovers, things like that. So it just feels like we’re getting in that groove where everyone’s getting settled in, that chemistry is building day-by-day, so I think we’re in a really good spot right now. We just have to keep building on it.”
Backup quarterback Sean Clifford has had a front row seat for it all. After Sunday’s game, he said he and Love were just discussing what he had clicked for the offense. While Clifford said he believes it’s been a steady progression, there may have been one moment when it all changed.
“Maybe today,” Clifford said Sunday. “Today was impressive, but I thought it was a little bit of everybody. I thought it started last week to be honest with you. We saw some guys catch and get YAC [yards after catch], which we hadn’t seen guys do. That was big. It was just kind of a matter of time. We know what we have from a skill level. I think if anything, it’s just [No.] 10 being super confident in everyone. And it showed today.”