Quarterback Aaron Rodgers dialed up a deep ball for rookie wide receiver Christian Watson, who juked Vikings’ cornerback Patrick Peterson nearly out of his cleats, creating separation for a pass that hit him in the hands and in stride. And then, with nothing but open field and the end zone in front of him, Watson literally dropped the ball.
Dave Kluge of Football Guys tweeted the heartbreaking video on Sunday afternoon.
Rodgers spoke about the planned play, and the deflating nature of its failure, during the postgame press conference. The quarterback’s comments begin at approximately the 21:04 mark of the following video.
“I thought Christian [Watson] ran a great route to start the game,” Rodgers told reporters. “We talked about it during the week, ‘Do you really want to start off with the bomb shot?’ I said, ‘Yeah, what the hell, why not? This kid can really fly. Let’s give him a chance.'”
“I was teasing Patrick [Peterson] after the game that we got him. He said, ‘Yeah, I wasn’t quite warmed up yet.’ But we’ve got to make those plays,” Rodgers continued. “It’s the mental mistakes we’ve really got to clean up, and there were too many of them across the board.”
Packers’ Two Missed Opportunities Turned Tide in Loss to Vikings
Rodgers went on to note a second missed opportunity on offense, a goal-line stand by Minnesota, which also had a significant impact on the momentum of the game, and ultimately on its outcome.
“I don’t really like playing those ‘what-if’ games, but the games do usually come down to a few plays here and there,” Rodgers admitted. “If [Watson] catches that one, [it’s] a 75-yard touchdown. If I pull the one on the goal line, I walk in for a touchdown. There’s 14 points … so we would’ve been right in it.”
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur addressed the same plays in the same press conference, also lamenting the missed opportunities but stopping short of saying they were the sole factors that swayed the game.
“Certainly, those are plays you definitely want back. But those happen in this league, and you’ve got to capitalize when you get those opportunities, and we didn’t,” LaFleur said. “But to say that play or the goal-line stand made the difference, I think that’s unfair to say.”
Packers’ WRs Watson And Doubs Struggled With Drops All Preseason
While Rodgers and LaFleur were each trying to lighten the load of criticism that is sure to fall on Watson’s back in the days to come, it is impossible to ignore the magnitude the receiver’s drop had on the game. And it isn’t the first time that Watson has dealt with such criticisms.
Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus noted during the preseason that Watson’s “drop issues and ball tracking” were legitimate causes for concern. Watson ended his day against the Vikings with two catches for 45 yards, but would have easily eclipsed 100 yards and scored a touchdown had his hands been more reliable. His fellow rookie receiver Romeo Doubs finished with four catches for 57 yards. Running back A.J. Dillon led all receivers in catches with five, and in receiving yards with 46, per ESPN.
Rodgers, on the other hand, finished the day without a touchdown pass but with a promise that both patience and accountability will define his relationships with players like Watson and Doubs moving forward.
“Look, we’ve got to have patience with those guys. They’re young. They haven’t been in the fire,” Rodgers said. “Now, that patience will be thinner as the season goes on, but the expectation will be high. So we’ll keep them accountable, but it’s going to happen, there’s going to be drops. Hate to see it on the first play, but there will be drops throughout the season.”