There were always going to be nights like this. In fact, these are the nights which define careers.
Not in the evening itself, but in how a player rebounds from them.
For Jordan Love, the potential for a dream quickly turned into a nightmare. Under a full moon at Lambeau Field, the Packers and Lions were set to battle for first place in the NFC North on national television.
The battle never materialized. It was a beatdown from the start.
“We got our ass kicked,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said in the postgame press conference of the team’s first half. “If I knew [why], it wouldn’t have happened.”
Detroit won 34–20 after leading 27–3 at halftime. Love finished 23-of-36 for 246 yards with two touchdowns (one rushing) and two interceptions. He was also an ugly 6-of-13 for 50 yards with an interception before the break.
Friday’s air and radio waves will crackle with hot takes about the Love being decisively beaten in his fifth career start. The fourth-year quarterback struggled early and essentially ended the game on the second quarter’s fourth play when he threw an interception to Lions corner Jerry Jacobs on a pass tipped by linebacker Alex Anzalone.
Yet, while Love played poorly, the offensive line was a disaster.
“It’s hard to throw on your back,” LaFleur said. “We’ve got to protect him better. We’ve got to look at some of the things we’re asking our guys to do. … There’s plenty of blame to go around. I’m always going to look at myself first and foremost, and see what kind of position we’re putting our offense in. It wasn’t good enough.”
Without former All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari and Pro Bowler Elgton Jenkins up front, Love was constantly under duress. On Green Bay’s first five drives, it failed to pick up a first down, with third-down distances of 19, 16, three and seven yards.
“It's not where you want to be, especially when you’re playing the Lions and they have a really good pass-rush front,” Packers guard Jon Runyan said. “I think their defensive line is definitely the strength of their team. Defensive and offensive line. When they’re able to know what the situation is, and know they’re going to have to get after the quarterback, it’s hard on us to hold up. We’re putting ourselves in those second-and-10s, third-and-12s … these last two weeks have just been unacceptable for us.”
The Packers didn’t earn a first down without the benefit of a Detroit penalty until there were seven seconds left in the second quarter with Detroit playing prevent defense.
In the first two quarters, the Packers allowed four sacks, five tackles for loss and six quarterback hits. Green Bay ran a total of five times in the first half, gaining seven yards.
Meanwhile, the defense was smoked one play after the next. Over the Lions’ next four drives after Rudy Ford’s interception of Jared Goff on the game’s opening possession, Detroit scored 24 points and averaged a whopping 8.6 yards per play.
By the time Green Bay forced Detroit’s first punt with 9:21 remaining in the second quarter, the Packers trailed by 21 points.
Barely 20 minutes into the game, Love was forced into an impossible spot of having to constantly throw behind an undermanned and overwhelmed offensive line.
At halftime, the Lions held a 284–20 advantage in total yards. Somehow, that was an improvement from the first-quarter numbers, which favored Detroit 194–1.
The lazy narrative will be whether Love is good enough to win games such as these. Of course, it’s too early to have any real clue. The reality is Love had no chance on Thursday night, which is both a credit to the Lions and a demerit for Green Bay’s coaching staff.
Coming into the game, Packers coach Matt LaFleur knew he’d be shorthanded up front. Green Bay needed to create easy throws for Love and slow down Detroit’s inevitable pass rush, either with clever runs or quick passes, such as screens.
Instead, Love was given no support on the ground while consistently being asked to look downfield, often with his receivers getting little separation.
Love will get ample blame, but he shouldn’t. Even an experienced quarterback would have been hard-pressed to generate offense. While he certainly deserves criticism for his second-quarter interception on one of the few dropbacks where his pocket was clean, most plays simply weren’t there to be made.
In a second half full of garbage time, Love put up numbers (17-of-22 for 196 yards and two touchdowns with a pick) but it was academic both in real time and afterwards. Yet there was a moment in which you saw Love’s potential and why the Packers are so bullish on him.
On the final play of the third quarter (which shouldn’t have counted due to the clock running out), Love had the awareness to rush to the line, snap the ball and uncork a gorgeous 44-yard deep ball to rookie receiver Jayden Reed. It’ll be lost in defeat, but it was instructive of the future.
Ultimately, the Packers should still feel emboldened by their situation.
Green Bay is 2–2 in a bad division and a weak conference. The Packers will soon get Jenkins back from a sprained MCL in his left knee, and Jones’s usage will likely ramp up. While Thursday night was a mess up front, Green Bay entered the night with Pro Football Focus’s top-ranked offensive line.
The Packers had also ranked 10th in pressure rate against through three games at 18.9 percent, while allowing just three sacks. Only the Chiefs and Dolphins have been better in the latter department.
Moving forward, Green Bay has a mini-bye before playing the Raiders, Broncos and Vikings over its next three games. Those teams are a combined 1–8, with the only victory being Las Vegas’s win over Denver.
For both Love and the Packers, their seasons won’t be defined by a lopsided Thursday night loss in Week 4.
They’ll be defined by how they respond, and what happens next.