LaFleur isn’t going to let Love’s three-interception performance in the preseason opener change that. He largely absolved his backup quarterback of responsibility for the turnovers in Friday’s preseason opener, a 28-21 loss at the San Francisco 49ers.
“I think two of those you can totally take off him,” LaFleur said. “The third one, again, we had two busted routes because the ball really shouldn’t have gone there on that play, but he had nowhere else to go with the football, and he forced it in there and the defender made a good play.
“We’ve just got to clean up everything around him. We say it all the time about quarterbacks, they’re going to get too much credit when we do well and they’re going to get a lot of the blame when we don’t, and that’s just the reality of playing that position in this league. But I was pleased with Jordan’s performance.”
Love, the third-year backup to Aaron Rodgers, finished the first half 13-of-24 for 176 yards with two touchdown passes to go along with his three picks. He also rushed four times for 24 yards.
Love’s two touchdown passes were both 33-yarders — one in the first quarter to rookie receiver Romeo Doubs, who has been one of the stars of Packers training camp, and the other a well-placed back-shoulder throw to rookie receiver Danny Davis in the second quarter.
Here’s why LaFleur didn’t put the interceptions all on Love:
On the first one, tight end Tyler Davis let a pass bounce off his hands. Love threw it quickly and into double coverage, but Davis simply dropped it and linebacker Marcelino McCrary-Ball plucked it out of midair.
On the second one, Doubs allowed cornerback Samuel Womack to wrestle the ball away from him near the sideline. Had Love placed the ball farther to the outside, Womack might not have been able to pull it away from Doubs.
While the third appeared to be a forced throw to an unopen Amari Rodgers over the middle that Womack picked off, LaFleur did not say whether Rodgers was one of the receivers who ran the wrong route.
“Amari kind of had a two-way go on the read, and they played two-high,” Love said. “It’s one of those things, we weren’t really expecting them to play much two-high. And, you know, just got the wrong read on it and, yeah, the route he ran, the ball was still behind him, able for the defender to undercut it. It’s something you don’t want to happen, but it’s something to learn from.”
Prior to Friday’s opener, Love was off to the best start of his career with more on-target throws, more touchdowns and fewer mistakes.
It’s an important preseason for Love, whose rookie preseason was wiped out by COVID-19. He played in only two of last year’s three preseason games, missing one because of a shoulder injury. Love lost in his only career regular-season start, last season at Kansas City while Aaron Rodgers was out because of COVID-19.
The Packers have to decide next spring whether to pick up the fifth-year option on Love’s rookie contract. A strong preseason might make that decision easier. It also might make Love easier to trade, something the Packers might consider if they think Aaron Rodgers will play for several more years.
The Packers trailed 20-14 when Love exited the game at halftime. Third-string quarterback Danny Etling finished the game. LaFleur held out most of the starters, except what has been the No. 1 offensive line in camp. He said earlier this week that Aaron Rodgers will not play in the first two preseason games, which includes next Friday’s game against the New Orleans Saints. LaFleur will make a decision about the preseason finale after the Saints game.
Doubs finished with three catches for 45 yards and the touchdown. He was targeted seven times and had two drops.
“To be able to have that touchdown to Romeo was huge,” Love said. “And then, obviously, just the turnovers. The ball wasn’t bouncing our way tonight. Couple of just misfortunate plays. The last one to Amari, just missed it inside on a ball. But, other than that, I think we were moving the ball great. Got into some scoring positions.”