SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — For all that went well in Jordan Love's first season as the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, the end proved disappointing.
The Packers are headed home after a crushing playoff loss.
Love threw his second interception of the game with Green Bay trying to mount a late-game drive to prolong its season, and the Packers blew a fourth-quarter lead, falling 24-21 to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round on Saturday night.
“I think it’ll sting for a while,” Love said. “Watching all the games going forward it will sting just knowing that we had an opportunity to win and we dropped the ball on that one. It’ll sting for a while but we’ll be able to look back on it and see some good things we did.”
Love accomplished plenty in his first season in place of Aaron Rodgers. He helped the Packers (10-9) overcome a 2-5 start to the season to make the playoffs. He followed that up with a three-touchdown performance in a wild-card win at Dallas last week and had Green Bay in position to knock off the top-seeded 49ers.
Love threw TD passes on back-to-back drives to open the second half to put the Packers in the lead. He threw a 19-yarderto Bo Melton to make it 13-7 and then added a 2-yarder to Tyler Kraft and a 2-point conversion to Aaron Jones to put Green Bay ahead 21-14 midway through the third quarter.
That gave Love 23 touchdown passes and only one interception in nine-plus games, but his run of protecting the ball ended at the worst possible time.
He threw his first interception since Dec. 11 to set up a field goal by the 49ers and then went three-and-out on the next drive.
A long run by Aaron Jones got Green Bay in scoring position, but the Packers stalled and rookie Anders Carlson missed a 41-yard field goal — his 12th missed kick in the past 12 games.
Green Bay's defense then let the Niners drive for the go-ahead score with 1:07 left, and Love was unable to lead the comeback, ending any chance with his second interception.
“The play broke down, was scrambling right, saw Christian (Watson) over the middle and tried to force one in to him,” Love said. “Thought I could make the play and didn’t see the back side. They made a great play.”
Love proved plenty this season and gives the Packers confidence that he can be a worthy successor to Brett Favre and Rodgers.
After spending his first three seasons as Rodgers' backup, Love threw for 4,159 yards and 32 touchdowns this season thanks to his strong second half of the campaign.
“I think he’s had an outstanding season," coach Matt LaFleur said. “I know it didn’t end the way we wanted it to. I couldn’t be more proud of just who he is as a man, first and foremost, as a leader of this team. I know this one’s going to hurt him. I’m sure he’ll be really hard on himself. He’s just got to use it as fuel to continue to get better.”
While Love's mistakes proved costly at the end, there were many issues that did in the Packers. There were two dropped potential interceptions, four drives that got inside San Francisco's 25 that led to only six points, the missed field goal by Carlson and the defense allowing the late score.
It added up to a 13th straight season without a Super Bowl appearance for the Packers.
“I felt like we had plenty of opportunities to put the game out of reach and unfortunately just didn’t do enough," LaFluer said. “It’s never one play. I’m sure a lot of it is going to come down to the missed field goal, but there were plenty of opportunities. Go back in the first half and have three red zone opportunities and have six points. There were a lot of plays out there. If one play goes different, we probably have a different result right now.”
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