Rob DemowskiESPN staff writer4 minutes of reading
CINCINNATI — The The Green Bay Packers loved what their new starting quarterback Jordan Love did in his early debut Friday night, but there were a few things he couldn’t pull off that gave him a chance to play at least one more time before the regular season. the season
Love was efficient on both of his series in the exhibition opener against the Bengals, completing 7-of-10 passes for 46 yards and the Packers a 36-19 win at Baker Stadium.
He spread the ball to five receivers, including a pair to new No. 1 Romeo Dubs: his long completion in the form of a 9-yard fade and a 12-yard crosser that was contested for a touchdown.
All Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari got the night off, but Love wasn’t pressured. And he completed four of his five game-action throws.
But two throws — his two longest attempts — made him and coach Matt LaFleur want it even more.
Love’s lone deep shot, a go route to tight end Christian Watson, went right on the opening drive, but Bengals safety Dox Hill had enough time to close the gap while the ball flew into the air and broke it. On the next play, Love overthrew a wide-open rookie tight end Luke Musgrave for what would have been a sure first but instead led to a punt.
“That’s what I want to come back to, and that’s throwing it up the middle to Luke,” Love said. “Man, missed him. It was an easy throw, a routine throw. Couldn’t bring it in. But other than that, I thought we played well. I thought the whole pass game was on the upswing. Obviously, we had a one-down defense on Christian’s side that played it well.”
LaFleur said he didn’t think Love had too much air on the deep ball to Watson. In fact, he has urged his quarterback to make deep balls. But he was able to use his eyes to freeze Hill in the middle of the field for another second as his predecessor Aaron Rodgers passed.
“It looked like an accurate ball, but what can he do to keep that defense another step so he can’t make a play on the ball?” LaFleur said.
That kind of finesse takes time, which is why LaFleur wants to play Love at least once more in the preseason.
“I expect him to play a little bit more,” LaFleur said. “Whether it’s next week or whether it’s against Seattle [in the preseason finale], let’s see how the week goes, let’s see how practices go. We have two big practices against New England that will be really good for him and we’re going to play it by ear.
While love was the focus of the night, rookie Emanuel Wilson became the feel-good story of the night.
An undrafted free agent out of Fort Valley State, he began training camp as the Packers’ No. 6. He did it on his father’s 14th anniversary.
“The whole week I was like, ‘Dang, I’m actually playing on the day my dad died,'” Wilson said. “It’s a blessing to be able to go out there and do what I have to do.”
Wilson’s sensation of the night was Packers starting running back Aaron Jones.
“I know what he went through,” said Jones, whose father died in 2021. “He and I have communicated about it before, so I know tonight is special for him and after his first show. [touchdown], I told him, ‘Hey, that’s for your pops. He is here. He is watching. He has the best seat in the house.’
“And I was like, ‘Go do it again,’ and he had a night out. You can’t help but think that his dad was on the field with him, so I think that’s pretty special, and I can. The connection.”
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