It’s a good week to be Brian Gutekunst. While this hasn’t been a good season for the Green Bay Packers, and the path to the playoffs is still an uphill battle, we can see the vision now. Thanks to a bright national spotlight on Turkey Day, the rest of the country does, too. After getting embarrassed on their home field in Week 4, Jordan Love went into Detroit and gave it right back to them in what was a dominant statement win. They had lost to three middling teams, the Las Vegas Raiders, Denver Broncos, and Pittsburgh Steelers, earlier this season. Therefore, there was no shortage of questions surrounding Love, Christian Watson, Matt LaFleur, and Gutekunst. In just a few short hours, many of them have been answered.
Following a Week 8 loss to the Minnesota Vikings that brought the Packers to 2-5, I wrote about how Love held his future in his hands. Whether he would enter 2024 as QB1 would depend on whether or not he could win enough games to keep Gutekunst away from the handful of exciting quarterback prospects expected to go in the top 10 this spring. After going on a 3-1 run that has included quality wins against the Los Angeles Chargers and Lions, he is buying himself some time. At the most, he’s solidifying himself as the next great franchise quarterback in Green Bay, worthy of what would technically be a third contract.
Love struggled a lot in the early going, but much of that has been attributable to the weapons and play calling at his disposal. Aaron Jones’ inability to stay on the field this season basically eliminated the only veteran presence in any of the skill-position rooms, and the growing pains associated with that youth have been omnipresent.
Rookie second-rounder Jayden Reed has been mostly electric, Luke Musgrave showed flashes before being placed on IR, and Romeo Doubs has started to trend toward being a contested-catch role player. That leaves Watson, who was expected to step into a WR1 role following his breakout in the back half of last season. Due to both health and football reasons, that has not materialized, and it’s been a rough go for him. He put on a show in Detroit, though, catching five passes for 94 yards and a score. The first domino to fall in the thrilling upset win was his 53-yard reception on the game’s opening play. If he can keep up the turnaround, it will absolutely be the moment we look back and point at as the impetus.
Not only did Gutekunst get to watch his guys step into their roles and shock the world, he also got to watch the deplorable sinking ship that is the New York Jets. Despite everything that Aaron Rodgers has given to the Packers franchise, his power struggle with Gutekunst led to his departure and set Green Bay on a rebuilding trajectory. He proceeded to take most of his friend group with him, playing GM throughout the offseason. After the Jets benched Zach Wilson, Tim Boyle, who threw 26 interceptions and only 12 touchdowns at UConn, got the start and put forth a comically bad performance. It’s fair to assume the former Packer is on the roster solely because of his connection to Rodgers.
Additionally, Rodgers strongly encouraged Joe Douglas to give Allen Lazard a four-year, $40 million contract in the offseason. He was a healthy scratch Friday. According to Andrew Brandt, Lazard is making nearly double the salaries of the entire Green Bay receiving corps.
And then there’s Nathaniel Hackett. The embattled former Broncos head coach had gotten that job because an offense that included Rodgers and Davante Adams, called by LaFleur, was good. Rodgers has often expressed his affinity for him. Although the Jets hired Hackett before the trade went through, he undoubtedly maintained his job because of that connection. Rodgers’ veteran, future Hall Of Fame status, in tandem with the Jets’ QB desperation, gave him an abundance of power. It’s fair to say he’s the worst GM in football.
While New York reels from a disastrous season, the Packers have turned a corner. A pair of victories against the LA teams was encouraging, but a road win against an NFC powerhouse has put them on the map. Minnesota and the Seattle Seahawks currently hold the final two playoff spots and a one-game lead. Neither are sure things. The schedule makers certainly eased Love into his first season at the helm, but that won’t continue.
The Kansas City Chiefs will visit Lambeau Field next Sunday for a primetime matchup that should command almost as many eyes as the Thanksgiving game did. Mahomes was Love’s first opponent. While things didn’t go his way, a win next week would put Green Bay firmly back into the playoff conversation nationwide. As for Gutekunst, no matter how the rest of the season goes, his guys are putting a lot of stuff on tape that’s worth being excited about. And that Jets pick he owns continues to creep further up the draft order.