The Green Bay Packers are 5-6 following their 29-22 win against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving. The win was Green Bay’s third in their past four games. Prior to their recent hot streak, the Packers had lost four games in a row and seemed to be spiraling.
The four-game losing streak was hard to watch for many reasons. Not only did Jordan Love make mistakes, but his wide receivers were doing nothing to help. Dropped passes, bad routes, and penalties seemed to take away any momentum the offense was able to muster at any time.
While there may be some Packers fans that choose not to remember, there was a bad stretch like this last year, with Aaron Rodgers under center. The difference, though, was that Rodgers had his buddies Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb that he could fall back on (and the New York Jets are finding out first hand how well that turned out).
Aaron Rodgers Was Quick to Blame His Green Bay Packers Teammates and Coaches
After starting the season 3-1, Rodgers’ 2022 Packers went 1-7 and played some of the ugliest football of his tenure with the team. But to hear Rodgers tell it, and he sure did every Tuesday on The Pat McAfee Show, he was never to blame at all. It was always the rookies’ fault, or the coaches’ fault, or Brian Gutekunst’s fault.
And Rodgers was not shy about calling out his teammates in the media or on the field. It had been that way for years. Even the great Davante Adams recalled a time where he, as a rookie, committed the cardinal sin of misreading an infamous Rodgers hand signal. When the pass intended for him sailed out of bounds, Rodgers laid into him with an expletive-laced rant before they got back into the huddle. Even Ndamukong Suh felt bad for Adams that day.
It was no secret inside or outside the Packers locker room that players needed to earn Rodgers’ trust. Mistakes were not tolerated. If a young pass catcher made a mistake, it could be a long time before he would be targeted again. Take Christian Watson for example: after his drop in Week One against the Minnesota Vikings, he could barely get a touch. It took until Week 10 for him to get more than three targets in a game.
In many ways, the growth of Watson and his fellow rookie wide receivers (Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure) were stunted because Rodgers refused to work with them until training camp (a period that Watson himself missed due to knee surgery). Sure, there was some growth during the season and Watson ended up having the best season of any rookie wide receiver in the Aaron Rodgers Era.
But it could have been better. It should have been better.
Jordan Love Builds Up His Wide Receivers When They Make Mistakes
Of course, Rodgers is now a New York Jet and the Packers have decided to bet on 2020 first round pick Jordan Love to be their next franchise quarterback. The 2023 season, right now, is looking promising. Following the Minnesota Vikings’ loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football, the Packers are just 0.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the NFC.
But there was not always this much optimism surrounding the team, and perhaps many still do not feel too good about it. Afterall, they did lose four games in a row before their recent hot streak.
That four-game losing streak saw plenty of mistakes from Love, but also (and perhaps more so) numerous inexcusable mistakes from his pass catchers. Watson, for example, dropped several passes during that streak and lost 50/50 balls more often than he won them against smaller defensive backs.
But the difference this year is that Love kept throwing him those passes. He did not let the mistakes challenge his faith in Watson. In press conferences, he took full blame, never once throwing Watson, or any other receiver, under the bus.
On Monday, wide receiver coach Jason Vrable said:
Jason Vrable says Jordan Love holds #Packers young WRs accountable, but he admires how Love guides young pass catchers through their mistakes: “He’s great with the guys. He’ll go over, put his arm around them and say, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it. I’ve got you. Let’s go.'”
— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) November 27, 2023
Last season, the 1-7 stretch of games spanned nearly two full months. The recent four-game losing streak lasted a month before Love and the offense started to click.
Of course, the 2023 season is not over. There may still be valleys that this young roster needs to go through. But they also have a favorable schedule with just one of their remaining opponents (the Kansas City Chiefs) having a record over .500. In other words, they very well could finish with a better record than they did last year, and they may even make the NFL playoffs.
Because Love did not give up on his receivers when they made mistakes, the Packers are in a position to have a more successful season than they did last year. It is an incredible testament to Love’s leadership.