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Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love walk to the field
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

It's pretty unlikely that this was actually the last time we saw Aaron Rodgers throwing passes in a Packers uniform, but it certainly felt like the end of something when he exited before the end of Green Bay's 40-33 loss to the Eagles on Sunday night. The QB's physical limitations were already on everyone's mind after a report earlier in the day detailed the severity of the thumb injury he'd been playing through, and as the Philly rush got to him throughout the night, they damaged his ribs enough that Rodgers had to leave the game with a quarter still left to play.

That cocktail of injuries cleared the way for Jordan Love to try to lead a comeback. Drafted late in the first round by the Packers in 2020, the 24-year-old out of Utah State has had very little to do up to this point in his NFL career. Despite regular confusion surrounding Rodgers's future in Green Bay, Love has mostly stayed on the sidelines, watching his starter put up back-to-back MVP seasons before his body and his team finally gave out in this disappointing 4-8 year. Love's entrance against the Eagles, though, echoed the beginning of the Rodgers era almost exactly 15 years ago, as a mid-game knock suffered by Brett Favre prompted the third-year backup to lead a respectable but ultimately unsuccessful comeback attempt against the Cowboys before taking over as the starter the following year.

Judging by those standards, plus the 14-point lead held by the one-loss Eagles, Love's task was perhaps unrealistic. But even though he couldn't magically pull out a win that would save the Packers' rapidly dimming playoff hopes, he looked pretty good. Love went 6-of-9 for 113 yards as the Pack picked up a touchdown and a field goal before a failed onside kick ended the game. Not every throw looked flawless, but Love's confident TD ball to Christian Watson perked up some ears and made Philly a little anxious.

There isn't the evidence to say that Love is a better win-now option than the banged-up Rodgers for a Packers team that is, on a slim technicality, still in the playoff hunt. But after such an ugly few months in Green Bay, I think many fans are ready to get more than just a glimpse of what he can do. With five games left, almost all of the decision factors have to be in Love's favor. Rodgers is nursing almost an entire medical journal's worth of injuries; the 38-year-old, who just this offseason made a show of potentially leaving Green Bay, is just 1-7 in his last eight starts and clearly nearing the end of his career; and Love is already getting close to free agency, with a fifth-year option for 2024 that the Packers will have to choose to exercise this offseason, with still-limited data on what Love can do in the NFL.

But Rodgers himself remains the biggest obstacle to Love's increased playing time, and until either the Packers' outlook or his own health declines even further, he's not yet ready for a peaceful transfer of power. In the postgame on Sunday, Rodgers expressed his desire to continue as Green Bay's No. 1 QB for at least as long as they remain mathematically alive.

"As long as I check out fine tomorrow, I expect to play this weekend," Rodgers said.

"There's obviously a lot of other conversations that come into play once you're eliminated, and I'll be open to all those conversations. Pride comes to mind. Love of the game. But there's other factors that, obviously, would come into play should we be mathematically eliminated."

With the three-year, $150 million contract extension Rodgers signed back in March, he can call the shots for now. But his backup has to be getting antsy.

"Obviously I want to be on the field, but the situation is what the situation is," Love said after Sunday's loss. "The toughest thing is trying to stay mentally prepared and stay locked in because you never know what might happen. I just go out there and try and make the most of the opportunity. Who knows what happens in the future? As long as I do my best and make the most of my opportunity, who knows what happens?"

The Packers travel to Chicago next Sunday, then enjoy a bye week ahead of four games that will likely all be must-wins. If Rodgers can in fact lead his team to a vibe-shifting victory over the woeful Bears, then presumably the bye becomes all about getting him as healthy as possible for the final stretch. But if the Packers lose in Chicago? Maybe Love gets two whole weeks to prepare for a highly anticipated Monday night start against the Rams, with his future in Green Bay potentially on the line. It won't be what this team was hoping for when Rodgers put pen to paper earlier this year, but for their long-term outlook, it might be for the best.

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