GREEN BAY, Wis. — The start to Christian Watson’s NFL career was a lot like the Green Bay Packers’ start to the season: plenty of promise ruined by one disaster after another.
Perhaps it was fitting then that Watson, the rookie wide receiver who either couldn’t stay healthy or couldn’t consistently catch the ball, turned things around Sunday to help the Packers keep their season off life support.
Watson, the second-round pick who was supposed to help offset the loss of All-Pro wideout Davante Adams, caught three touchdown passes Sunday in the 31-28 overtime victory over the Dallas Cowboys in what was coach Mike McCarthy’s return to Lambeau Field.
Watson’s breakout day (four catches for 107 yards) came after he dropped the first two passes thrown to him Sunday. Two of his touchdowns came in the fourth quarter after the Packers fell behind 28-14.
At 4-6, the Packers still have plenty of digging to do if they’re going to get out of the crater they put themselves in to start the campaign, but a loss might have dashed all hope.
“That was a turning point for us, hopefully, a turning point that leads us to go on a streak,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “But that was a chance for guys to, ‘Ah, it’s not our season, 3-7, what are we doing in the offseason, it’s not going to be our year.’
“Sometimes you can’t explain the feelings that you have and the energetic waves that come and go during the week, but I just had a feeling all week we were going to win this game.”
It all came after the Packers hit what Rodgers said was “a low, rock-bottomish, for sure” after their fifth straight loss last week following a 3-1 start.
Enter Watson, whose career already included a knee injury that kept him out for most of training camp, a drop on what would’ve been a 75-yard touchdown on the Packers’ very first play of the season opener at the Minnesota Vikings, a hamstring injury that kept him out for three games and a concussion. All that came before he dropped two more passes on the Packers’ opening drive Sunday.
It was after that opening drive that Rodgers and coach Matt LaFleur pulled Watson aside.
“Yeah, 12 and Matt both said early, ‘We’re going to come back to you,'” Watson said. “And I mean, obviously, that hit me at home. I know that those are plays I can make. Those are plays that I make every day at practice and something I know I’m capable of. So, obviously, just having that to fall back on, knowing that we’re still in it, we’re still good, they’ve still got faith in me means the world.”
What followed was a 58-yard touchdown catch on the same deep route down the right sideline that Watson ran — and dropped — in the opener at Minnesota. After that, there was a 39-yarder and a 7-yarder in the fourth quarter.
“It’s been kind of a roller-coaster ride for him,” LaFleur said of Watson. “Just to see him respond like that, I told the guys after the game, and it’s not just him, but this is kind of like a microcosm of how I feel about the team, the resiliency that he showed, and his ability to bounce back. It started off rough again, having two drops, and to finish the game with three touchdowns, and the one catch, obviously, the first touchdown.”
No other Packers rookie receiver has had a 100-yard, three-touchdown day since Hall of Famer James Lofton did so in 1978. And only five rookies in all over the past 20 years have had a game with those numbers. Watson joined Ja’Marr Chase, Chase Claypool, Calvin Ridley, Odell Beckham Jr. and Torrey Smith in that category.
It wasn’t all rosy, though. Rodgers barked at LaFleur after the Packers’ final drive of regulation — a conservative three-and-out. When asked what he was mad about, Rodgers said: “Just every single playcall, probably.”
LaFleur said he felt the same way.
“Wasn’t real happy with the way the fourth quarter, two-minute situation ended,” he said. “But our guys bailed me out, so I appreciate that from them.”
Even before he could face the team after the game, LaFleur said he took a moment in his own locker room, where his emotions came out. Something similar happened during his news conference.
“You know, I care about these guys, and, you know,” LaFleur said as he started to choke up, “we put a lot into this, and it is tough at times. And I apologize, but it means a lot to us, and to be down and fight and continue to fight, that’s what you want to see. I don’t mean to make this awkward. I apologize.”