This could have been a day that, years from now, people would point to as the beginning of Love’s legacy. Instead, it served as a coming out party for Falcons running back Bijan Robinson. The rookie “shredded” — Packers coach Matt LaFleur’s word — Green Bay’s shoddy defense for 172 total yards from scrimmage on 23 combined rushes and receptions.
Even with all the damage Robinson inflicted on defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s deficient run-stopping plans (25th in rushing yards allowed in 2022), Love had his turn to win it.
“That’d been amazing,” Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander said, momentarily allowing his imagination to go there.
“But it didn’t happen, so we gotta do better next week.”
The Packers really never got their chances to get their hopes up for a game-winning drive; it was doomed from the start.
LaFleur is a big believer that the first pass of a two-minute situation is a critical one to complete, and instead rookie receiver Jayden Reed — who to that point had a breakout game of his own with two touchdown catches — cut the opposite way that Love expected.
“Just get a completion,” Love said. “Get a completion to get the drive started.”
Love then took hits on the next two plays just as he was releasing the ball, and those also fell incomplete.
On a last-gasp try on fourth-and-10 from his own 25-yard line, it looked like he had receiver Samori Toure over the middle for a first down, but Toure never controlled the ball. It wouldn’t have counted anyway because the Packers were flagged for an illegal shift — a penalty that Falcons ended up declining.
Packers drive cut short by dropped 4th down conversion
The Packers drive in the final seconds gets cut short by a dropped 4th down conversion.
“I think the last possessions of the game are good lessons for all of us, how we have to execute,” said Love, who has six touchdowns and no interceptions through two games. “Every play matters in this league and there’s stuff to clean up right there. And, you know, we’ll look at the tape and see what we did. But it just comes down to execution.”
The Packers blew an opportunity to start 2-0 on the road, and they did it in spectacular fashion after leading 24-12 heading into the fourth quarter. It was their first loss with a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead since the 2014 NFC Championship Game at the Seattle Seahawks with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.
But it wasn’t just the last drive that ruined what otherwise had been another poised and promising showing from Love, who threw three more touchdowns without an interception to match his stat line from Week 1 against the Chicago Bears.
The problem was he went 0-for-6 in the fourth quarter.
The Packers went three-and-out twice in a row following Falcons’ scoring drives, which is where AJ Dillon entered into the story. In his chance to make a case for RB1 status with Aaron Jones sidelined with a left hamstring injury, Dillon stumbled behind the line of scrimmage on a third-and-1 play with 6:49 remaining.
All three plays on that drive were runs, and after Dillon went nowhere on the third-down play, LaFleur gave Love the option to run a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1. Love thought he made that call at the line of scrimmage, but when he started his motion forward, center Josh Myers never snapped the ball. That was because Love didn’t give the proper call at the line, saying he used the wrong word.
“Not everybody got the call to get the sneak, so I messed that operation up right there,” Love said.
The false start penalty forced the Packers to punt, which the Falcons turned into the go-ahead field goal with just under a minute to play.
It would have added to the legend that Love won without not only Jones but also receiver Christian Watson (hamstring) and left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee). Plus, he lost left guard Elgton Jenkins to a knee injury in the first half.
As solid as Love has been two weeks into the job as Rodgers’ full-time replacement, perhaps it was too much to ask for him to win it at the end.
After all, Rodgers didn’t come out of the backup role winning close games right away, either. He was 1-7 in one-score and overtime games during his first season as a starter (2008), but he ended up with 31 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime during his Packers career.
In some of those early losses, Rodgers gave the Packers a lead only to see the defense blow it.
That’s how cornerback Rasul Douglas saw things Sunday.
“Twenty-four [points by the offense], that should be enough,” Douglas said. “That’s just how I look at it, 24 should be enough for our defense.”