Green Bay Packers

Playoffs? Playoffs!

Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I remember 2020 draft night like it was yesterday. The Green Bay Packers traded up a few spots? I got up and walked directly in front of my TV. I started chanting, ‘Patrick Queen…Patrick Queen.’ I mean, we were just a few months removed from seeing the San Francisco 49ers eviscerate the Pack in the NFC title game, and their freaky athletic linebackers were a big reason why – something Green Bay hasn’t had since Ray Nitschke. If not Queen, it had to be a wide receiver, right?

When Roger Goodell announced the pick, I, like all of you, collected my jaw from the floor and immediately said to myself, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ Some of you may have used more colorful language.

A million thoughts run through your mind at a moment like this: The Super Bowl window is closing for the Aaron Rodgers era – how does this put you over the top? Not to mention, Aaron is NOT going to be happy about this.

What I couldn’t stop thinking about: Brian Gutekunst, bravely, intentionally, and maybe recklessly, just put a giant bullseye on his chest. He’s banking his future on this kid because if it doesn’t work out, if this triggers the end of 100% buy-in from Rodgers and the franchise joins 20 other franchises in QB purgatory a few years down the road, he’ll need to freshen up his LinkedIn profile.

45 months later, Gutey may want to break down a few walls and remodel his office at 1265 Lombardi Avenue. He and his staff’s belief in what Jordan Love might become has paid off spectacularly, with an emphatic, near-perfect performance in a pressure-packed season finale that punched the Pack’s ticket to the playoffs a year ahead of schedule.

Over the last eight weeks, Love played as well as any QB in the league, with 18 touchdowns and just one pick. Over 4,000 yards, 32 TDs, and 11 interceptions for the season. Plus, a passer rating of 96.1, higher than Aaron Rodgers’ first season, despite a much less experienced supporting cast. He had a better first year than both Rodgers and Brett Favre and is the only one of them to reach the postseason.

It’s impossible to know what Love’s ceiling may be at this point, but we know that his floor is a top-15 QB. That is a huge win for the organization, and if he continues to improve, along with his young, developing pass catchers? Well, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, and Detroit Lions fans don’t even want to contemplate what that might mean.

This Packers team is the youngest to reach the playoffs in nearly 50 years. Gutey has made his share of mistakes in recent drafts, but it looks like he hit the ’23 draft out of the park. Virtually the entire draft class contributed this year – many in a major way. And they needed to after the team moved on from a bushel full of veterans and were in salary cap hell, after doing all they could to keep the band together the last couple of years to try to get to one more Super Bowl with Rodgers.

Green Bay’s young group just delivered the most wild, unusual, and satisfying season for Packers fans in a long time. So much was new and unknown, and it all revolved around Jordan Love. Now we look to the future, believing that if they can get the defense figured out, the Pack has a chance to be an NFC contender for years.

Sunday was extra satisfying because it shut up Bears fans once again. Matt LaFleur has accomplished a ton as Packers coach: reviving Aaron Rodgers’ career and helping him deliver an amazing second act, developing Love into a QB that much of the league would kill to have. And maybe just as rewarding: He’s 10-0 against the Bears. That alone should earn him a street in his name near Lambeau Field.

The 17-9 win over the Bears felt so much more dominant than a one-score game. Of course, the Packers shot themselves in the foot with a missed field goal, the decision not to call timeout late in the first half after sacking Justin Fields costing them 30 precious seconds, the costly mistake at the end of the half that prevented them from kicking a field goal, the Love fumble, the two dropped touchdown passes.

That seems like a lot of bad stuff, but the good so outweighed the bad. Love dropped back 32 times, and the ball touched the ground five times. Aaron Jones cracked the 100-yard mark on the ground for the third straight game – the first guy to do that since Ahman Green.

The rookie receivers stepped up once again, led by the two scores from Dontayvion Wicks and a first career 100-yard day for Jayden Reed. The defense stepped up for a second straight week: stopping the run all afternoon, sacking Fields five times, and holding the Bears to less than 200 yards of offense. The rookies on this side of the ball all made big plays: Lukas Van Ness, Karl Brooks, and Carrington Valentine.

And maybe most impressive of all: this team that we’ve criticized for a lack of discipline, for taking stupid penalties all season, was flagged just once in the game. That penalty came in the fourth quarter, offsides on Rashan Gary, and it was clear the left tackle flinched on the play and should have been called for a false start.

It’s just another sign of growth from this team that turned a corner during a close loss in Pittsburgh in the middle of the season. Suddenly, they have the hottest QB in the league, a running back who has found his groove, and a corps of rookie pass catchers growing up before our eyes. And they have a defense that has steadied the ship but one that will have its hands full in Dallas.

Ah, yes. Dallas. The Pack against Mike McCarthy in the house where the Pack raised the Vince Lombardi trophy and where they’ve never lost. Playing a Dallas Cowboys team that they’ve beaten four straight times and two in a row in the playoffs. It’s going to be a fun week imagining the unimaginable. We’re entering the postseason not as the No. 1 seed like the last couple of times but as the No. 7 seed, 7½ point underdogs, and a team playing with house money.

There’s no pressure on this team and no ultimate expectations from the fanbase. What we know now that we didn’t know a month or two ago: the future for this team is incredibly bright. There will be no ten years wandering the desert in search of a franchise quarterback.

The Packers have found theirs. They were mocked and criticized by virtually everyone when they chose him. Never mind that Gutey was schooled by the guy who traded for Favre and the guy who drafted Rodgers. The Packers believed they couldn’t pass on Jordan Love.

45 months later, he has silenced all of the doubters and given Packer fans a reason to believe in the power of Love.

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Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The best general managers are constantly looking for ways to improve their roster. Brian Gutekunst has been quoted multiple times saying that roster building is a 365-day-a-year […]

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