GREEN BAY – A breakout night that began with an impromptu backflip ended with Christian Watson gazing into his hand with a smile and counting.
A rookie season that's been filled with adversity had its shining moment Sunday night, as Watson caught four passes for 107 yards and three touchdowns to help propel the Packers to a 31-28 overtime victory over the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field.
Watson's three receiving TDs tied the franchise's single-game rookie record, joining James Lofton (Sept. 10, 1978), Billy Howton (Nov. 27, 1952), and Max McGee (Oct. 30, 1954).
Early on, however, it didn't look like Watson was going to be in for an historic night. He dropped two passes on Green Bay's opening drive, at which time quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Head Coach Matt LaFleur told Watson, "We're coming back to you."
And they did.
"Obviously, that hit me at home," Watson said. "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."
Despite the early adversity, Rodgers targeted the rookie in a critical third-and-1 situation in the second quarter. With the pass game struggling to ignite, Rodgers unfurled a deep shot to Watson, who was matched against cornerback Anthony Brown.
The 6-foot-4 receiver not only caught the ball but also took the catch all the way to the end zone for a 58-yard TD, marking Green Bay's longest passing play of the season and the longest receiving TD by a Packers rookie since James Jones' 79-yarder at Denver in 2007.
Watson didn't have an elaborate celebration planned for his first NFL touchdown reception. But after spiking the ball, Watson made eye contact with veteran receiver Allen Lazard and decided on doing an encore – a backflip he'd been perfecting.
"I knew I was going to do it eventually," Watson said. "I did it in practice one day. Everyone loved it. Everyone said I needed to do it. I was waiting for the moment when I had enough energy in me after the play to do it."
While Watson's first touchdown was key to getting the offense going, it was his heroics in the fourth quarter that ultimately helped the Packers snap their five-game losing streak.
Trailing 28-14 and facing fourth-and-7, Watson saw a soft spot in the Cowboys' back end and took his crossing route vertical for a 39-yard touchdown with 13 minutes, 31 seconds left in regulation.
After Green Bay's defense earned another stop, Watson started the Packers' next scoring drive with a third-and-2 conversion and ended it with a 7-yard touchdown to tie the game with 2:29 left.
It was at that point Watson looked at his hand, counted up his scores and nodded in approval. It was a gratifying night for the highly touted second-round pick, who's overcome everything from knee and hamstring injuries to a concussion last month against Buffalo.
See scenes from the Sunday afternoon matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field on Nov. 13, 2022.
Even after the early drops Sunday, Watson's teammates were confident the rookie would respond the right way.
"Once we had those two drops and came back to the sideline, everyone was so very encouraging of him because they know the time they've put in and the talent that he has," Lazard said.
"And for him to be able to finish the day the way that he did was something special. 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 said he already had text messages pouring into his phone from his parents and siblings. Once his media obligations were fulfilled, Watson's next call was going to be to his fiancé.
It was a fulfilling night for a Packers' receiving corps that's been through the gauntlet this season, with Randall Cobb and Romeo Doubs currently sidelined with ankle ailments, and Watson, Sammy Watkins, and Lazard having missed time themselves.
Even in the face of a five-game losing streak, the Packers didn't cave. It's Watson's hope that his first 100-yard game paired with his first NFL receiving touchdowns can help springboard a Green Bay roster that still has high expectations for 2022.
"I think what's been going on this entire season is reason enough to believe," Watson said. "We've seen what we can be, and we've seen that it was only us getting in our own way. So I mean really all we had to do was believe.
"Coach said it before the game, 'Just believe, believe in ourselves, believe in us as a team,' and I think that's what we did on each and every play this game and that helped us stay in it and obviously come out on top."