Jordan Love will do something next week that his two predecessors did not in their first seasons as the Green Bay Packers’ starting quarterback: play in the postseason.
The Packers locked up a postseason berth on Sunday afternoon, defeating the Chicago Bears in a tense 17-9 victory to clinch the NFC’s final open playoff spot. Love was as efficient and impressive as he has been at any point in the 2023 season in week 18, completing 27 of his 32 pass attempts for 316 yards and two touchdowns.
As usual, Love relied on his rookie playmakers in the passing game, but veteran running back Aaron Jones was a critical factor all game long. Jones posted his third straight 100-yard game on the ground and delivered the final first down that allowed Love to kneel out the clock on the win.
Through the air, a trio of rookies did the heavy lifting. Jayden Reed crossed the 100-yard mark as well, his first such game of his career and the second straight for the Packers after Bo Melton’s effort last week. Dontayvion Wicks was responsible for both of Green Bay’s touchdowns, gaining 61 yards on six receptions. And tight end Tucker Kraft may have had just three catches for 31 yards, but he had arguably the biggest catch of the game, a 5-yarder on 3rd-and-8 just before the two-minute warning to keep the offense on the field with a chance to run out the clock.
Ultimately, the Packers got stops when they desperately needed them, including forcing a field goal with an 8-point lead after the only turnover of the game, a fumble by Love on a play where he had scrambled to seemingly pick up a third-down conversion. The Packers got a big day from their pass rush, particularly the interior linemen, as the group sacked Bears quarterback Justin Fields five times. Several of those came on third downs to force punts or field goals, including after that fumble. In total, the score made the game closer than it could have been, as the Packers had a massive edge in total yards (432-192) and were 7-of-10 on third down.
Because the Los Angeles Rams defeated the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, the Packers will be the #7 seed in the NFC. That will send them to a date with the Dallas Cowboys next weekend at AT&T Stadium, a game that is sure to be a premium matchup on the league’s Wild Card schedule. Schedules for next week’s games should be announced sometime during this evening’s Sunday Night Football game between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins.
For now, the Packers can celebrate a massive victory and a postseason berth, doing so as the youngest team in recorded history to ever make the playoffs. And they have a true signature performance from Jordan Love to look back on as the key piece that made it happen on Sunday.
The Bears started with the football after electing to receive, and Fields picked up the game’s initial first down by scrambling to escape the Packers’ pass rush. Fields then hit D.J. Moore and former Packer Equanimeous St. Brown on intermediate throws to move deep into Green Bay territory. Joe Barry’s defense got a stop, however, as Lukas Van Ness came up with his fourth sack of the season to force a 3rd-and-long and Karl Brooks tripped up Khalil Herbert on a screen pass to force a long field goal attempt. Cairo Santos managed to hit from 50 yards out, glancing the football off the left upright and in to give the Bears an early 3-0 lead.
Green Bay’s offense returned the favor with a good opening drive that also ended with a field goal attempt. Aaron Jones picked up an early 3rd-and-6 with a 7-yard run, then Jordan Love hit Dontayvion Wicks for a gain of 19 yards. Jones then ripped off a 14-yard run on a counter to the left. But a drop by Romeo Doubs in the end zone and a sack of Love forced Anders Carlson to come on for a 41-yard field goal attempt. But from the left hash, the rookie pushed his kick wide left, keeping the Packers scoreless.
With each team taking more than six minutes off the clock, the first quarter sped by in less than 25 minutes of real time. Having taken over in good field position, the Bears crossed midfield before the opening frame wrapped up, but faced a 3rd-and-6 as the second quarter began. Devonte Wyatt whipped left guard Teven Jenkins, sacking Fields at midfield to force a punt.
Starting at their own 8-yard line, Love found Jayden Reed for a 32-yard gain over the middle to get the Packers’ second drive going. First downs from Bo Melton and Aaron Jones pushed Green Bay into the red zone. Love floated a ball to a wide-open Wicks in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown, giving the Packers their first lead of the game:
Chicago responded with another long drive that featured an explosive pass play. D.J. Moore got singled up with Quay Walker in coverage, getting wide open and going for a 33-yard gain. But on the play immediately after the two-minute warning, Kenny Clark shot through the line for a sack on Fields to force another Bears field goal.
That left the Packers with 1:17 and two timeouts to try to get some points before halftime. In two plays, they got into field goal range — a 25-yard catch-and-run by Melton and a 13-yard toss to Aaron Jones. However, Tucker Kraft not getting out of bounds around the 25 forced the Packers to use their final timeout, and in an effort to get just a few more yards and run some clock off before a last-second field goal, Wicks had his forward progress stopped in the field of play before getting shoved back and out. That allowed the clock to run, killing off the rest of the first half without any points for the Packers.
Coming out of the half, Love and Jones started dealing once again. Jones followed up Love’s 17-yard throw to Melton with a 17-yard gain on the ground, Love finished off the drive with his second touchdown pass, another one to Wicks who fought through tacklers at the goal line for the score.
Chicago again managed to pick up multiple first downs on their first series of the second half, but another third-down sack forced a punt near midfield. Quay Walker finally cleaned up Fields after initial pressure by Preston Smith, and the Bears’ punt went for a touchback to give Green Bay the ball at their own 20.
Jones and the Packers’ running game appeared on track to expand their lead to two possessions, but the game’s first turnover shifted the momentum massively. On 3rd-and-2 near midfield, Love audibled to a new play but there was a miscommunication with his receivers. He tried to scramble and made a nice move to pick up a first down, but Tyrique Stevenson knocked the football out of his hands for Jaquan Brisker to recover, giving Chicago the ball back.
The Bears managed to put up points, but they were unable to find the end zone. The Packers’ pass rush was getting around Fields but could not bring him down, as he led Chicago down the field. Carrington Valentine nearly intercepted Fields’ pass to Cole Kmet in the end zone, but he was unable to haul it in and Chicago settled for a field goal to pull back within five points at 14-9.
One one play, Love and Jayden Reed delivered a statement to the Bears that they would not let the game slip away easily. Love found his rookie receiver with a hole shot up the left sideline over the Bears’ coverage, and Reed cut back across the field for a 59-yard gain, instantly putting the Packers in field goal range. On 3rd-and-4, the Packers got an incredible throw from Love to Melton in the back of the end zone. Melton bobbled the football and the play was initially ruled incomplete on the field, then reversed to a touchdown and reviewed. It was switched back to an incomplete pass again, and Carlson came on for a short field goal to restore the Packers’ 8-point lead.
Needing a touchdown, the Bears got moving with a big swing pass to Khalil Herbert for 16 yards. Jonathan Owens laid a big hit on Fields on a run to the outside a few plays later, but a pass breakup by Rashan Gary on third down set up the Bears with the play of their game, a 4th-and-5. Gary jumped offsides, but the Bears’ left tackle, Christian Jones, appeared to move first. However, Gary was flagged, giving Chicago a first down. After a holding penalty on the Bears — the first enforced penalty of the game — Karl Brooks instantly got pressure on field and sacked him, and a 3rd-and-22 pass from Fields sailed high and incomplete to force a Chicago punt with just over six minutes left.
Starting from the five-yard line, the Packers got out of the shadow of their own end zone with a clutch throw. On 3rd-and-3, Love unloaded a laser to Reed over the middle for a 15-yard gain, giving Reed the first 100-yard receiving game of his career. A pair of Jones runs picked up a first down and pushed him over the century mark as well, and it helped to force the Bears to use up two of their timeouts. Eventually, Green Bay faced a 3rd-and-8 at their own 43-yard line with 2:25 left and a chance to effectively salt away the game.
Of course it was a rookie who delivered the massive blow on behalf of the Packers’ offense. Love found tight end Tucker Kraft over the middle, and he rumbled for 15 yards to move the chains once again. But they still needed one more first down, and they got it from the old veteran running back, Aaron Jones. On 2nd-and-9 after the two minute warning, Jones weaved his way through the Bears’ defense for a ten-yard gain to move the chains and ice the game.
The Packers finish the regular season at 9-8 and in second place in the NFC North, and they will head to Dallas next week. Chicago falls to 7-10 on the season, putting them in a tie with the Vikings for third place in the division.