CHICAGO — Turns out, Aaron Rodgers might have been only a co-owner of the Chicago Bears. Jordan Love appears to have left Soldier Field with a share for himself.
New Green Bay Packers quarterback. Same story for the woebegone Bears.
On the same field where two years ago Rodgers told Bears’ faithful, “I still own you,” after another Packers’ win over their NFC North rivals, Love began his tenure much the same way.
A 38-20 victory in the first game of the post-Rodgers era sent a pointed message.
“Nothing’s changed,” running back Aaron Jones said. “We’re still the Packers.”
Whether or not Love has a 15-year run in him to follow 30 years of Rodgers and Brett Favre, these are his Packers now. He waited three years as a backup to show it and for at least one afternoon, he made general manager Brian Gutekunst’s bold move to trade up to pick a quarterback in the first round of the 2020 draft look prescient.
It was the Packers’ ninth straight win over the Bears, but it felt like something much more than that.
“There’s a big-time belief in that locker room for Jordan Love,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “I think the guys, they’re going to rally around him. They’re excited for him. They love him. They respect him. He comes to work every day, great attitude, great energy. I think you saw that today.”
And behind the doors of the Packers’ locker room, it could be heard, too. A cheer erupted when Love was presented with the game ball.
“It’s definitely been a long time coming for me, three years as a backup,” Love said. “Just watching, learning and growing, seeing this team work, it feels good to be out there leading those guys and be out there playing with them finally and coming out with a dub is just what we wanted.”
Love made it look easy at first, with a scoring drive on the opening possession. He showed patience in the pocket, double pumped to let Romeo Doubs come open and then hit him on a crosser for an 8-yard touchdown.
Then it looked like a struggle. It was a 10-6 game at halftime.
Then it looked like a vintage LaFleur offense. A deceptive screen pass turned into a 51-yard catch and run for Jones, who capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. By the time Jones caught an option route for a 35-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-3 play, the Packers led 24-6.
A perfectly placed 4-yard fade for Doubs’ second touchdown — which came after the only real moment of concern about Love, who fumbled a snap only to recover and hit rookie tight end Luke Musgrave for a 37-yard pass — gave the quarterback his third TD and a 31-14 lead. To that point in Week 1 of the NFL season, he was the first quarterback to throw three touchdowns.
With a big assist from Jones, who had 127 yards and two touchdowns on 13 catches before a tight hamstring ended his day, Love completed 15 of 27 passes for 245 yards without a turnover.
“I told him that I think he’s going to go for 300 with three touchdowns, but he went for [almost] 250 with three touchdowns,” left guard Elgton Jenkins said. “But we’ll take it.”
This was without perhaps their most explosive receiver, Christian Watson. He was inactive with a hamstring injury, which is perhaps a reason LaFleur shut down Jones early even though Jones said he could have continued to play.
Love was especially strong on the money downs, going 8-of-10 on third and fourth downs, converting seven of those for first downs.
“I feel like he can be a top-five quarterback,” Jenkins said. “I’m always optimistic about my teammates, but I definitely feel like Jordan can be one of those guys.”
The only stat the really mattered for Love on Sunday was this one: 1-0.
He’s a long way from 24-5 — Rodgers’ record against the Bears — but as cornerback Jaire Alexander said: “[The] Pack is back.”
Or perhaps it never left just because Rodgers left town for the New York Jets.
“I definitely yesterday was visualizing just having a win, coming off the field after a win; I kept telling myself, ‘I’m going to play great, we’re all going to play great,'” Love said. “That’s what I kept telling myself over and over again. And woke up today doing the same thing, just visualizing that we were going to get this win and we were going to play great today.”