Bills 19, Packers 0: More highs and lows for Jordan Love in preseason finale
ORCHARD PARK, New York - Jordan Love stumbled as he departed from under center, tripped by rookie Josh Myers’ left foot as he reached to fake a handoff at the 25-yard line, and this play was dead before it had a chance at life.
By the time Love recovered, the Green Bay Packers quarterback was staring into Buffalo Bills defensive end A.J. Epenesa’s face. Epenesa had rushed unblocked. He might have reached Love anyway, even if everything went right as Love crossed the 25-yard line. But everything had not gone right, and now Love had trouble.
“It was just a rollout,” Love said. “The play kind of got messed up from the beginning with the trip.”
It was first-and-10 early in the second quarter of Saturday afternoon’s preseason finale at Buffalo. The Packers were in field-goal range. The prudent thing would have been for Love to abort. Live for second down. He had receiver Malik Taylor in the right corner of the end zone. In desperation, Taylor looked oh so temping, but Love also had two Bills defensive backs in the same area.
In other words, the young quarterback had no shot.
Love took his shot anyway.
“Kind of just threw a 50-50 ball up,” Love said, “and that’s just one I’ve got to obviously learn from and dump that one to the sideline right there and play the next play.”
When the Packers traded up in the 2020 first round to draft Love, they did so believing he had all the requisite talent to be a franchise quarterback, but also knowing his potential downfall. It was represented in one number: 17 interceptions in his junior season at Utah State. Through his first career preseason start, and through a first quarter of another, Love had played cleanly.
Then he tripped at the 25-yard line.
It was safety Micah Hyde who pulled down the end-zone interception against his old team. Could have been cornerback Tre’Daviuos White. Both were in position to catch a pass Love never should have thrown. The decision removed any possibility of at least three points, if not seven.
“I saw Malik go up in the corner route,” Love said. “It was man coverage. I thought I could put it up in the corner and let him go get it or throw it over his head, but throwing off my back foot, it just wasn’t – the ball didn’t come out the way I wanted. It kind of hung up in the air for a long time, and a play I wish I could get back.”
Love’s preseason concluded Saturday with four scoreless drives in a 19-0 loss, mostly against the Bills' starting defense. They were long drives, the Packers chunking off 12 plays on the first, nine plays on the second, another 12 plays on the third.
It was Love’s first game since what he called a sprained rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder in the Packers' preseason opener against the Houston Texans, an injury that forced him to miss the second preseason game against the New York Jets. Love completed 12 of 18 passes for 149 yards and the interception against Buffalo. He said his shoulder hadn’t given him any pain since the week after his preseason debut, allowing him to return to practice last week and play against the Bills.
Love said it was frustrating being unable to build off his debut against the Texans.
“Obviously I want to be out there,” he said. “I want to get three chances in the preseason to know that I’m going to be out there on the field. So it did suck knowing that I wasn’t able to do that, and obviously great opportunity with the Jets last week, coming and practicing with them. So, yeah, it sucked to miss that.”
The Packers got possession with 2:19 left in the second quarter, giving Love a chance to execute the first two-minute drill of his career. The first snap, from reserve center Jake Hanson, bounced to his ankles. This time, Love lived for another play, falling on the fumble for a 4-yard loss.
Defensive lineman Ed Oliver jumped offside a play later, on second-and-14. Love stood strong in a collapsing pocket with edge rusher Jerry Hughes coming from the right side, and delivered a strike to Taylor. This pass, also between a pair of Bills defenders, was perfectly placed down the right sideline for 27 yards.
“It was a free play,” Love said. “We got them to jump offside, and obviously taking a shot when that happens. I liked my matchup with Malik. Tried to put it on the sideline for him to go get it. He made a really good catch, being able to keep his feet in bounds right there.”
The drive, which came against Bills starters, ended in field-goal position. Kicker Mason Crosby, who would later have a 41-yard punt because regular punter JK Scott had cramps, pushed the kick wide left.
Late in the drive, the Packers had a third-and-goal from the 5-yard line. Love frantically tried to get Hanson’s attention as the play clock expired, but his center never snapped the football. It led to a 5-yard penalty on a delay of game, giving Love the type of experience that can’t be duplicated in practice.
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Coach Matt LaFleur said his offense used a silent count to combat noisy Bills fans, something the Packers hadn’t done in a year. He thought Love was “composed” and handled the huddle well, especially with the noise.
“Usually when the quarterback starts clapping,” LaFleur said, “you’ve got to roll, man. Because the shot clock was going down. Probably could have called a timeout, but didn’t. So we had to live with that.”
Love targeted rookie Amari Rodgers through a tight window on third-and-goal, and the ball was almost intercepted after being deflected.
There were other promising moments Saturday, such as Love’s 29-yard completion to Reggie Begelton on the opening drive. Begelton was wide open after a Bills busted coverage, but Love did not miss. He has shown this preseason an arm full of potential.
As Love prepares to return to a background role, backing up Aaron Rodgers during this 2021 season, the Packers know it will be how their young quarterback develops his decision making that could influence the future most.
“I just told him you can’t ever risk it quite like that unless it’s fourth down, the game is on the line, and then certainly you can throw one up," LaFleur said. "But we never want to take points off the board. The interception, and the one at the end of the half, certainly could have taken points off the board.
“I think for the most part he’s done a nice job. Certainly, these are teachable moments, and I think you have to experience those and go through those in a game setting to really learn from them. I’m pretty certain that he will learn from those mistakes, and hopefully he doesn’t repeat them.”