A new era will be starting for the Green Bay Packers when the 2023 NFL season gets under way. For the first time since 2008, Aaron Rodgers will not be the team’s starting quarterback. Former first round pick Jordan Love is the designated heir apparent and is expected to be under center Week 1.
But what will constitute a successful first season for Love as the Packers starter? What is the team looking to see from their quarterback and what will he be able to deliver?
In this article, we look back at some aspects of Rodgers’ first season and look at how they apply to Love as he is about to embark on his first season as the team’s starter.
Long term, this is not the most important factor although certainly the Packers want to win as many games as possible. The team is coming off an 8-9 season in which they didn’t get great quarterback play from Rodgers who statistically was in the middle of the pack among NFL quarterbacks last season.
The last time there was a quarterback change was 2008 when the Packers moved on to Rodgers from Brett Favre who was traded to the New York Jets.
In 2008, the Packers finished with a disappointing 6-10 record and missed the playoffs after finishing 13-3 the previous season and reaching the NFC Championship Game.
The Packers lost a lot of close games in 2008. In fact, out of 10 losses the team suffered, seven were by four points or less. Having a quarterback who is learning can make a team frequently come up short in close games.
However, one year later, the Packers finished 11-5 and reached the playoffs. The year after that, they won their only Super Bowl under Rodgers’ leadership.
In essence, the Packers took a step back in 2008 to take two steps forward.
In his first season, Rodgers did have a solid year statistically but not the type of season he eventually had in his prime. He completed 63.6 percent of his passes while throwing 28 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. He threw for 4,038 yards and had a quarterback rating of 93.8. Rodgers only had one season with a lower quarterback rating in his career (2015) until last season’s 91.1 quarterback rating.
In 2008, Rodgers was still learning and his coach, Mike McCarthy, did not hesitate to criticize Rodgers when he felt it was appropriate. For example, after a disappointing 19-16 overtime loss to the Titans in which the Packers scored just one touchdown after four trips inside the red zone, McCarthy had this to say about Rodgers.
“Disappointed offensively with the red-zone production,” McCarthy said. “We had a number of minus decisions down there. We need to do a better job of taking what the defense gives us, staying within the offense. Our decision-making was poor as a whole in the red zone, and it factored in the outcome in a number of those series.”
Rodgers was very good but not yet playing at the Hall of Fame level that he demonstrated throughout his career. What he did show was his potential and leadership. It was clear that Rodgers could become the team’s next great quarterback by the end of the season.
Love will also face the difficult situation of replacing a legendary quarterback. We all know Rodgers’ resume, 4 NFL MVPs, a Super Bowl title and Super Bowl MVP, 10 trips to the Pro Bowl and a four-time All Pro. In his 15 seasons as the Packers starter, Rodgers led the Pack to 11 playoff berths and in two of the four seasons the team missed the postseason, Rodgers missed significant time due to injuries.
Rodgers took the high road and handled things very well when he took over for Favre. It was part of showing leadership and understanding that many Packers fans loved and respected Favre and weren’t happy that he was traded and Rodgers was taking over.
“I think they should [teach] a class on how Aaron Rodgers has handled this whole thing,” Buccaneers defensive tackle Chris Hovan said early in the 2008 season. “A lot of guys say a lot of petty things in the media, but I think Aaron always took the high road through this situation. You’re dealing with a Hall of Fame quarterback.”
Love will have to navigate a similar situation with a large portion of the fanbase still wishing Rodgers was still running the team. Thus far, Love has handled the difficult situation of being drafted in the first round while Rodgers was still the starter quite well. He has worked hard, learned from watching and listening to Rodgers and his coaches and improved his play each season according to teammates and coaches.
Now he will get to put that to the test on the field.
Rodgers exuded confidence from the time he arrived in Green Bay. Late in his first season as the starter, he still had that confidence. Here’s what Rodgers said in December of 2008 as the team stood at 5-9 on the season and had just lost another close game:
“I’ve always been supremely confident in my abilities. But the biggest confidence boost is when the guys around you, you feel like they have confidence in you,” Rodgers told reporters. “If I felt like I was losing any guys, if I felt like when I stepped in the huddle with under two minutes left and they didn’t believe we could win the game, then that would make me have a diminished sense of confidence about myself – which I would address. But I haven’t gotten any of that.”
McCarthy added, “Aaron has a lot to be confident about. There’s definitely some things he can do better, and we’ll continue to coach him to do better. He’s getting the opportunities, and that’s all you can ask for. He’s going to line up, he’s going to play hard against the Bears. As a man, that’s all you can ask for. He has no reason not to be confident in his abilities and [we have] confidence in him.”
When Rodgers took over for Favre, there were questions about his leadership. Favre was a veteran who had already won a Super Bowl and been there for so long. He had a specific leadership style. But there was also a generational disconnect between the veteran quarterback and most of his teammates who by 2007, were a decade or more younger than their starting quarterback.
In a 2008 article, Greg Jennings had this to say about the leadership contrast between Favre and Rodgers. The quote certainly looks ironic now in 2023. “With Brett, outside of football, there really was no relationship with him,” Jennings explained. “He’s a great guy, don’t get me wrong, and you viewed him as a heck of a player, a guy that you had a tremendous amount of respect for, a guy that you knew you were going to get his best every week. But as far as anything outside of football, I didn’t really expect anything. Aaron and I have a great relationship – and I think where it becomes different is the age. I think we have developed a rapport with one another both on the field and now off the field. That’s a little different, the fact that we have a relationship off the field. I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Offensive lineman Daryn Colledge also felt closer to the new, younger leader. “We’re all more emotionally involved with Aaron than we were with Brett,” Colledge said. “The fact is Aaron’s a friend. I think I’m more emotionally invested in our relationship than I ever was with Brett. There was always a fear factor of getting Brett hit, but that’s because you’re young and you don’t want to lose your job. With Aaron, I want to play well because I want us to have success together. Brett was a lot older than us. We didn’t have a lot in common, we didn’t spend a lot of time with each other off the field.”
There will be gains and losses in the change in leadership and Love will have to find his own style and the team will have to adjust. The transition is a process.
Like Rodgers before him, Love has sat and learned for three seasons behind a future Hall of Famer. Now we get a chance to see what he can do as the team’s new starting quarterback. There will almost certainly be growing pains for Love and his first season may not yield immediate results. But the important thing is to see potential and progress as he embarks on what the Packers hope is a long and productive career in Green Bay.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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