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Young Packers provide early evidence they can still thrive even after Aaron Rodgers' departure

Maybe the Green Bay Packers won’t take a step back in the first season of the post-Aaron Rodgers era.

The Packers said throughout the offseason that their expectations wouldn’t change even without Rodgers, the four-time MVP quarterback who was traded to the New York Jets in April.

The Packers backed up that talk Sunday by rolling to a 38-20 road victory over the Chicago Bears, with Jordan Love throwing for 245 yards and three touchdowns in his second career start.

“All offseason, I think our team has been slept on,” Love said after the game. “And it’s just one of those things that we can’t do anything about it until we go out there and prove it. I think we did that today.”

Their performance provided hope the Packers could contend for a fourth NFC North title in five years and bounce back after going 8-9 last season.

Love showed Sunday just how much he had learned the past three seasons as the backup to Rodgers. The 2020 first-round pick from Utah State delivered a poised performance despite playing without his top returning receiver in Christian Watson, who was out with a hamstring injury.

Green Bay’s shift from the 39-year-old Rodgers to the 24-year-old Love signified the youth movement of the entire Packers’ roster. The only Packers in their 30s are offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and outside linebacker Preston Smith.

The Packers’ rookie class had a huge day.

Anders Carlson kicked a 52-yard field goal. Luke Musgrave had three catches for 50 yards. Jayden Reed caught two passes for 48 yards and also had a 25-yard punt return. Lukas Van Ness and Karl Brooks each had a sack.

“It’s a testament to all of us rookies coming in here, putting the work in and showing that we’re made for this moment,” Van Ness said. “We’re ready.”

The Packers’ second-year pros also delivered. Romeo Doubs caught two touchdown passes. Zach Tom started at right tackle and contributed to a quality offensive line performance. Quay Walker scored on a 37-yard interception return. Devonte Wyatt had 1½ sacks.

“I just feel like ever since Aaron’s been gone, everybody thinks that we don’t got a lot of really good players in this locker room,” said defensive tackle Kenny Clark, who turns 28 on Oct. 4. “Yeah, we’re young and all that, but it’s all about the process and how we practice and how we prepare at the end of the day. A lot of those young guys didn’t look too young yesterday, and that’s a credit to them and how they prepared.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Packers showed remarkable efficiency on offense considering Love was making his second career start and was missing his top returning receiver. The Packers didn’t turn the ball over a single time, and Love was sacked only once. … On defense, the Packers bothered quarterback Justin Fields all game and sacked him four times.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Packers need to do a better job of avoiding penalties. They were flagged nine times for 90 yards. … The Packers also gained just 2.9 yards per rush.

STOCK UP

Aaron Jones showed he still has plenty of explosiveness in his seventh NFL season. He turned two short pass completions into a 51-yard gain and a 35-yard touchdown. Jones totaled 127 yards and two scores on 11 touches (nine rushes, two catches). … Wyatt’s 1½ sacks matched his season total from last year. … Doubs stepped up to lead a young receiving group.

STOCK DOWN

AJ Dillon rushed for just 19 yards on 13 carries, though he also had two catches for 17 yards.

INJURIES

Jones hurt his hamstring on his second touchdown. … Walker was evaluated for a concussion after his touchdown.

KEY NUMBER

9 — The Packers have now beaten the Bears nine straight times.

NEXT STEPS

The Packers stay on the road Sunday to face the Atlanta Falcons, who opened their season with a 24-10 home victory over the Carolina Panthers.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl