Christian Watson Breakthrough Game Suggests Packers Receiving Corps Coming Of Age

Green Bay Packers receiver Christian Watson started Sunday's game much the same way he started the season and his NFL career: with much promise and a grand disappointment.

Watson, the rookie drafted to help the team ease the pain of losing Davante Adams in the offseason, was open early in Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys and quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw him the football.

Watson dropped it.

Then Rodgers threw to him again on the very next play.

And Watson dropped that one, too.

Watson had been here before. He spent most of his first NFL training camp nursing a knee injury so he's familiar with frustration. And he dropped a potential 75-yard TD pass in the team's season-opener so he's no stranger to disappointment.

Packers Christian Watson Answered Call

Watson, a second-round pick, knows Rodgers has been critiquing and borderline ripping Green Bay's young receivers for drops and other poor play or habits.

None of this seems good. And one supposes Watson expected nothing good when Rodgers approached him after his first terrible series.

Except the conversation didn't go poorly. And eventually, on this cold night, Watson played on fire.

"Yeah, 12 and Matt [LaFleur] both said early, 'We're going to come back to you,'" Watson told reporters. "And, I mean, obviously, that hit me at home. I know that those are plays I can make, should 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 to me."

This is what happened next: Rodgers did indeed go back to Watson six more times. And the quarterback-receiver battery connected on four of those.

And three of them went for touchdowns.

Watson scored on a 58-yard pass in the second quarter, and fourth-quarter passes of 39 and 7 yards to tie the game and eventually force it to overtime.

On his final score, Watson paused in the end zone and began counting his touchdowns on his fingers.

Aaron Rodgers Kept Throwing To Watson

The fact that it took him a moment to account for all the scores suggests something for him and the Packers passing game, which has been sorely lacking this season despite having Rodgers at quarterback.

It suggests we saw the Packers' receiving corps begin to come of age.

That's not what most pundits are saying now. They're saying the Packers rushed for 207 yards and that's the reason they beat the Cowboys. They're saying Dallas coach Mike McCarthy should've kicked a field goal in overtime to perhaps extend the game and that's the reason the Packers won.

I get all that. The pundits are not wrong gasbagging about all that.

But it says right here that if the Green Bay Packers are going to avoid having the significant 4-6 hole they've dug from becoming a grave, they'll have to pass their way out of it.

They have a four-time MVP at quarterback. Rodgers needs weapons he can trust to throw to. And that was present this game, with Watson's 58-yard score coming on third down and the 39-yarder coming on fourth down.

All that -- the big plays, the execution, the trust -- is what made this performance significant and potentially lasting.

The Packers rushed for 207, yes, but they cannot count on rushing for two bills to save them every game. It's about passing the ball and having receivers for Rodgers to make it happen.

That has been lacking so far this year. The Dallas defense that plays perhaps more man coverage than anyone in the NFL and gets after the quarterback about as well as most teams came into the Green Bay game certain Green Bay's receivers couldn't beat them.

Yet that is exactly what happened.

That's growth.

Packers Receivers Show Growth

Watson had 10 catches for 88 yards and no touchdowns when Sunday dawned. So his 4 catches for 107 yards and 3 TDs wasn't just a great day. It was a revelation of what is possible.

"It's been kind of a roller-coaster ride for him," LaFleur said. "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."

The beauty of all this for the Packers is Watson isn't the only one to show up for this game.

Allen Lazard, Green Bay's on-again and off-again go-to receiver since the Adams departure, was on this game. He played 63 of a possible 64 offensive snaps and came out uninjured, which has been a challenge for him this year.

Lazard caught a 36-yard slant pass on third-and-1 during Green Bay's overtime possession and that set up the Packers at the Dallas 20 yard line -- just right for the game-winning field goal.

Even veteran Sammy Watkins did some encouraging things. He caught a 29-yard pass on a second-and-22 situation and finished the game with 3 catches on 3 targets.

All of that is encouraging. It speaks to what is possible if indeed the Packers receiver corps just grew up before our eyes.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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Armando Salguero is a national award-winning columnist and is OutKick's Senior NFL Writer. He has covered the NFL since 1990 and is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a voter for the Associated Press All-Pro Team and Awards. Salguero, selected a top 10 columnist by the APSE, has worked for the Miami Herald, Miami News, Palm Beach Post and ESPN as a national reporter. He has also hosted morning drive radio shows in South Florida.