No Rodgers, no problem: the Packers may have aced their succession plan once again

Sunday saw the start of a new era for the Packers-Bears rivalry and, frankly, it did not look much different from recent incarnations, in which Green Bay have dominated Chicago. If the Bears thought that facing Jordan Love rather than Aaron Rodgers would change their fortunes, the Packers’ comprehensive 38-20 victory proved them wrong. It was the Packers’ ninth win in a row over their NFC North rivals.

Bears fans had reason to be optimistic before the game, at least after last year. First of all, the team is actually attempting to win games this time around! On top of that, in the midst of a lot of losing in 2022, Justin Fields improved as time went on, becoming only the third NFL quarterback to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. Meanwhile, Love has been a gigantic question mark since he entered the league.

The Packers traded up to pick Love in the first round of the 2020 draft despite already having Rodgers on the roster. No one seemed to understand quite why the Packers were using a first-round pick on a player who, if everything went right for them, wouldn’t start for years.

By pretty much all accounts, drafting Love was a key moment in the rift between the Packers and Rodgers, who was hoping for offensive weapons and instead had to welcome his eventual replacement. To cut a very long story short, this offseason the team traded Rodgers to the New York Jets, for whom he will make his debut against the Buffalo Bills on Monday.

So, instead of playing against a four-time MVP, the Bears’ defense would be playing against an unknown quantity who had started one game in his entire NFL career. Advantage Bears, right? Well, unfortunately for their fans, Chicago spent most of Sunday’s game looking like the team that put together the league’s worst record last season.

Fields was sacked four times, threw an interception and lost a fumble while coming up with just one touchdown. Meanwhile, Love had a clean game, throwing three touchdowns and no picks. Maybe more importantly, he looked extremely comfortable running the offense as if he had been preparing for the job for years which, of course, he has been. He was eight for 10 on third- and fourth-downs on Sunday, showing an admirably cool head under pressure.

Romeo Doubs catches a pass for a Packers TD.
Romeo Doubs catches a pass for a Packers TD. Photograph: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Then again, the Packers are no strangers when it comes to planning quarterback succession. After all, they drafted Rodgers with the intention of having him sit and learn the professional game during the reign of Brett Favre. Three years later, when the Packers parted ways with Favre – who immediately joined, yep, the Jets – they decided they were comfortable with Rodgers even though he was still a relatively unknown quantity. They did not come to regret that move.

In an ideal world, maybe the Packers would have preferred to hang on to Rodgers. But when he left they believed they had already developed his replacement. Love, who is still only 24 – the same age as Rodgers was when he took over as Green Bay QB – also spent three years behind a Hall of Fame signal-caller before officially becoming the team’s starter. This does not feel like a mere coincidence. Love looked prepared to take on the role, which also doesn’t feel like a coincidence.

“Nothing’s changed,” Packers running back Aaron Jones said after the game. “We’re still the Packers.”

Now, all eyes will turn to New York for Rodgers’ first start of the season on Monday night. If history seems to be repeating itself the 39-year-old Rodgers now must play in the shadow of not only his younger self but also of Favre, whose one year with the Jets fell to pieces after a promising start. That’s a lot of pressure to play under, but Rodgers has put it all on himself.

Co-MVPs of the week

Tua Tagovailoa was back to his best on Sunday in Los Angeles
Tua Tagovailoa was back to his best on Sunday in Los Angeles. Photograph: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports

Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill, Miami Dolphins. Most of the preseason talk around the AFC East has been about the Buffalo Bills and the Rodgers-led Jets. But Tagovailoa was a legitimate MVP candidate last season before suffering several concussions. On Sunday, he looked more like his old self as he threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-34 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. Tyreek Hill caught two of them, while picking up 215 receiving yards. If these two continue to be on the same page, the AFC East will be a three-horse race.

Video of the week

Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson scored his team’s first touchdown, which also doubled as his first NFL touchdown. It was a great start for what many believe will be an Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign for Robinson. It came in a 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Panthers rookie QB Bryce Young had a less impressive debut: this year’s No 1 overall pick threw two interceptions and a single touchdown on his NFL debut.

Stat of the week

82. That’s how many passing yards Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow managed in a 24-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns, a career low. It’s not the performance you want after becoming the league’s highest-paid player. In Burrow’s defense, he was returning from a calf injury and playing on the road in miserable weather.

Considering the extenuating circumstances, it’s not time for the Bengals to hit the panic button just yet. And I doubt Browns fans are going to get ahead of themselves, given their city’s sports luck. But they have a good all-round team, two outstanding players in Nick Chubb and Myles Garrett and it’s unlikely Deshaun Watson will be as bad as he was last year. Cleveland could contend in the AFC North.

Elsewhere around the league

Talking of contenders, the Dallas Cowboys looked like a good shout for a deep run the relatively weak NFC after dismantling the New York Giants in their season opener. Their defense – one of the best units in the league – swarmed Giants QB Daniel Jones sacking him seven times, helping Dallas to a 40-0 blowout victory. The battle between the Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East should be fun.

The Dallas Cowboys had built a 26-0 lead by the time half-time arrived on Sunday
The Dallas Cowboys had built a 26-0 lead by the time half-time arrived on Sunday. Photograph: Adam Hunger/AP

San Francisco 49ers QB Brock Purdy threw for 220 yards in a 30-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Plus, he came up with a nifty two-handed backward fumble recovery right when Pittsburgh looked like they were going to make a comeback. Purdy did not seem to show many signs of being affected by injury or regression to the mean after his out-of-nowhere rise to stardom last season. “Purdy shut some haters up,” defensive end Nick Bosa said after the game. “I think whenever a guy comes back from an injury, people kind of don’t expect him to make another leap in the second year.”

The New England Patriots missed the playoffs last year and quarterback Mac Jones took a huge step back after an encouraging rookie season. The experts didn’t give them much of a chance against the Eagles on Sunday.

Well, sometimes the experts are right! With Tom Brady watching in the stands, the Eagles took a 16-0 lead before the Pats’ defense shut Philadelphia down and gave Jones the chance to cut the deficit to two points before the scheduled half-time celebration of his predecessor. In Brady’s era, there was no such thing as moral victories in New England. But given the team’s lowered expectations these days, the 25-20 loss to a Super Bowl contender could have been worse.

Tom Brady speaks to fans as he is honored during halftime.
Tom Brady speaks to fans as he is honored during halftime. Photograph: Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks should be competing for a playoff spot this season while the Los Angeles Rams shouldn’t be heading anywhere good. For at least one game, however, the Rams looked like the superior team, relying on three rushing touchdowns (two from Kyren Williams and one courtesy of Cam Akers) and 334 passing yards from Matthew Stafford to defeat the Seahawks 30-13.

Apart from a late-game injury, Indianapolis Colts QB Anthony Richardson’s first NFL start was a relative success. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Richardson threw his first career passing touchdown, added his first career rushing touchdown into the mix and generally looked good during a mostly competitive game. However, when the clock hit triple zeroes, the Jaguars were ahead 31-21. As the only team in the AFC South to start the season with a win, the Jaguars are the division favorites until proven otherwise. But the Colts showed impressive signs of life on Sunday, and Richardson – see by many as a work in progress – looked ahead of schedule.

When Arizona linebacker Kyzir White took down Washington QB Sam Howell during the Cardinals’ 20-16 loss to the Commanders, he also accidentally knocked over an innocent official. To his credit, the ref immediately righted himself and threw the penalty flag in one fluid motion. Who says they’re not athletes?

The first pass of CJ Stroud’s NFL career ended up being to himself, a weird statistical quirk he shares with Favre. It wasn’t exactly a QB duel in Baltimore, as neither Stroud nor Lamar Jackson managed a touchdown. Despite losing starting RB JK Dobbins for the season to a torn achilles in the third quarter, the Ravens’ running game kept them well ahead of the rebuilding Texans for the final score of 25-9.

The Kansas City Chiefs celebrated winning the Super Bowl by indulging in an old-fashioned NFL tradition: the championship hangover. Thanks mostly to a miserable performance from the receiving corps, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs fell to the Detroit Lions 21-20 in the NFL season opener on Thursday. It’s a positive sign for a Lions team that many believe will win their division this year and an important lesson for Kansas City: last year was last year.