Green Bay Packers wide receiver Christian Watson had his first big game as a pro Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. The rookie second round pick from North Dakota State had four catches for 107 yards and three touchdowns as the Packers came from behind to beat Mike McCarthy’s team 31-28 in overtime.
Watson became the first Packers rookie to score three touchdowns in one game since Hall of Famer James Lofton did it in Week 2 of the 1978 season against the New Orleans Saints. He also enjoyed his first NFL 100-yard receiving game and set a career-high for catches, yards, touchdowns and plays.
The day didn’t start off too well for Watson. He dropped two passes early was clearly looking discouraged. Drops have been an issue for Watson throughout his college and NFL career including the Packers first offensive snap of the 2022 season when he dropped a sure touchdown on a long pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers against the Vikings.
But Watson didn’t sulk after his two early drops against the Cowboys. And both quarterback Aaron Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur both encouraged Watson and told him they were going to continue to feed him the ball.
“Hey, the ball’s still coming your way, buddy,” Rodgers told Watson. “Let’s get one of these and make a play.”
Watson appreciated the vote of confidence. “Obviously, that hit me at home,” Watson said after the game. “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.”
It didn’t take long for Watson to get another chance. In the second quarter, the Packers faced a 3rd-and-1 from their own 42 when Rodgers saw that the rookie receiver had beaten cornerback Anthony Brown deep. Rodgers delivered the ball and neither Brown nor any other defender could catch Watson.
Watson’s second score came on a critical 4th-and-7 at the Dallas 39. The Packers trailed 28-14 and they lined up three receivers to one side. That gave Watson a clean release off the line of scrimmage and he was able to use his speed to beat the safeties and get into the end zone for the score.
The third touchdown was the shortest of the day but by no means less impressive. The Cowboys linebackers bit on a play action fake that gave Watson some room underneath to get open after he and Allen Lazard lined up on the same side of the formation.
Watson described it as “a play we were trying to get to all night. We called that same play a few times in the hope to get the look we wanted so we could check it to that specific play. I think it was finally the third time that they had the safety on the backside; obviously, safety took the two-man side so I just had to run with speed across the field.”
The rookie had some fun ways of celebrating his scoring plays. After the first touchdown, he did a backflip in the end zone. After the third scoring play, he counted with his fingers, one, two, three. The third score tied the game and helped send it into overtime.
The Packers know getting Watson established as a dangerous receiving threat could really help open their offense. Those deep throws that Rodgers likes to take become more of a threat when there is a speedy receiver who can stretch the field and catch them. After his strong performance against Dallas, opposing defenses will surely be aware of Watson.
Watson’s ability to get deep also helps free up other receivers on short and intermediate routes. Safeties will be forced to follow Watson on deep patterns which will clear out sections of the field underneath.
Lazard was impressed with what he saw from Watson against Dallas and knows what it can mean for this offense. “For him to be able to finish the day the way that he did was something special,” Lazard said. “That’s such a huge stepping point for him to be able to make that next big step and to be a real threat for our offense.”
Watson is still making his share of rookie mistakes. But he has a positive attitude and a good work ethic and as Rodgers said earlier in the season, he is asking the right questions when he does make a mistake and is working hard to improve.
Although his rookie campaign was slowed by injuries and some early struggles when he was on the field, Watson showed what he is capable of Sunday against the Cowboys. Now it’s up to Watson, Rodgers and LaFleur to build on that performance and help the rookie take his game to the next level consistently.
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