CHICAGO — It looked like the Christian Watson show might be nearing the end. The Green Bay Packers receiver would have a nice little three-game stretch by which to remember his rookie season, but that would be about it.
Nearly halfway through Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears, Watson had done nothing.
That changed in Soldier Field’s south end zone with 17 seconds left in the first half. And again in the same end zone with 1:51 left in the game.
Not only did Watson’s remarkable run continue for another game, but the longer he keeps this up, the more reason Aaron Rodgers has to consider what could be if the quarterback returns to the Packers next season.
Even if two more Watson touchdowns — one receiving and one rushing — that helped the Packers (5-8) to a 28-19 win only keeps their faint playoff hopes (now at 4.8%, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index) alive for another week, it helps solidify the idea that whoever is quarterbacking them in 2023 and beyond will have a bona fide playmaker in his huddle.
“It’ll all factor into it,” Rodgers said when asked whether Watson’s emergence will impact his decision. “But there’s got be mutual desire on both sides.”
Nine weeks into the season, the second-round pick from North Dakota State had only one touchdown — a 15-yarder against the Patriots in Week 4. He couldn’t shake the drops that began with a would-be 75-yard touchdown in the opener at the Minnesota Vikings nor could he stay healthy.
What began with a 58-yard touchdown catch against the Cowboys in Week 10 has turned into a four-game run with eight touchdowns.
“It’s a rapid, wild development,” Rodgers said. “And it’s hard to think about another player who goes from being kind of a here-and-there minimal production to go-to-type player, home run player.
Watson’s eight touchdowns have come from the past 17 times he’s touched the ball. He matched the most touchdowns in a four-game span by any rookie in the last 35 seasons and became the first rookie receiver to do it since Randy Moss in 1998. (The other rookies were running backs: Clinton Portis in 2002, Mike Anderson in 2000 and Edgerrin James in 1999)
His first one Sunday came with the Packers trailing 16-3 late in the first half. On fourth-and-4 from the Bears’ 14-yard line, coach Matt LaFleur bypassed a field goal. With Watson in the slot right, Rodgers stepped in that direction, planted his feet, threw a strike and gave the Packers life.
The second put the game away. Watson used jet motion to his left before the snap, yet most of the Bears’ defenders fell for the Packers’ action to the right. Rodgers handed it off in stride to Watson, who used a Sammy Watkins block to run 46 yards untouched before he dived into the end zone.
It was during the 2-minute warning right before that play when Rodgers asked LaFleur whether they should score or simply go down to either keep the clock running or force the Bears to call a timeout.
“All he said was, ‘After you score, we’re going to do this,’” Watson said. “So all I heard was ‘score,’ and that’s what I did.”
Watson, who finished with three catches for 48 yards plus the 46-yard run, also factored on another scoring drive. He drew a 38-yard pass interference penalty on Bears cornerback Jaylon Jones early in the fourth quarter to set up a field goal that put the Packers ahead 19-17 with 14:41 left.
If only he had started this run a little earlier. He wouldn’t allow himself to think of what his numbers — still solid with 25 catches for 401 yards and seven receiving touchdowns — could have been.
His very presence as a speedy deep threat might have changed some of those midseason losses when the offense went cold for long stretches, because the Packers don’t have another player like him. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Watson has the five fastest maximum speeds by a Packers offensive ball carrier this season. Sunday’s touchdown run, when he hit 21.72 miles per hour, tops that list and was the fourth fastest by anyone in the NFL this season.
“Obviously there’s ‘what ifs’ and stuff like that, but I can’t predict any of that,” Watson said.