GREEN BAY – Christian Watson came as advertised this season.
Like Watson has done so many times during the second half of the year, the rookie receiver provided a playmaking spark for Green Bay's offense during an otherwise disappointing 20-16 loss to the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field.
Watson caught five passes for 104 yards while carrying the ball twice for another 12. In the third quarter, the 6-foot-4, 208-pound receiver made the longest play of the evening for either team when he brought in a 45-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers down the side despite Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye being called for defensive pass interference.
It set up the Packers' lone touchdown – a 13-yard pass to Allen Lazard that gave Green Bay a 16-13 lead with a little more than 4 minutes left in the third quarter. Watson finished with three of the Packers' five longest plays against the Lions and touched the ball on each of their four scoring drives.
"He's been that way all season," said veteran receiver Randall Cobb of Watson. "He's definitely been a catalyst for this team, and I think he's shown the ability that he has and the importance he has to this team. He made a couple big plays tonight to put us in position to score a touchdown, kick a field goal. That's what you want. That's what you ask for."
The Packers traded up in the second round last April to draft Watson 34th overall out of North Dakota State. There were some initial questions about how much he'd be able to contribute as a rookie after undergoing offseason knee surgery and then suffering a pair of hamstring injuries and concussion in Buffalo early in the regular season.
After returning in November, Watson became one of Green Bay's biggest playmakers en route to finishing the season with 41 catches for 611 yards and seven receiving TDs. That's the most receiving yards by a Packers rookie since James Jones had 676 in 2007.
As evidenced Sunday, Watson had a profound impact on the Packers' offense when healthy.
"He gave us a chance. Him turning it on kind of made the season start going," tight end Robert Tonyan said. "This is the hardest season, just combine, all that stuff and you go right into the season. He had a knee surgery early on. You're just grinding. For him to go through all that and see some success at the other end, we're super happy for him."
Watson was one of several rookies to see extensive playing time for Green Bay. Fellow rookie receiver Romeo Doubs had 42 catches for 425 yards and three TDs as well. The Packers face some uncertainty this offseason but enter 2023 with full knowledge of what Watson is capable of in this offense.
"I think the sky's the limit for him," Cobb said. "I saw it when he first walked in here, just his ability. To see him continue to put it together and grow throughout the season was special to watch and I look forward to seeing where his career takes him."
Crosby's future: While Mason Crosby is again scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this March, the Packers' all-time leading scorer said after the game that he intends to play a 17th NFL season in 2023.
Crosby, 38, made 17 consecutive field goals prior to his 53-yard attempt in the third quarter against Detroit. On the season, Crosby converted on 22 of his 25 field-goal tries (86.2%), while also pushing his consecutive games played streak to a franchise-record 258 games.
"I still want to keep playing. I don't have any plans on tying them up," Crosby said. "So, my plan is to keep pushing, kind of look at how I want to work through the offseason to try and give it another go. Working with Pat and Jack and the guys in this room and working with Rich just lit a fire back into me to push and keep working, and he pushed me every day to compete and do all those things and I feel like that energy alone makes me want to keep going."
Sharing a moment: Following the conclusion of Sunday's game, Rodgers and Cobb walked off Lambeau Field and exited through the homefield tunnel together.
Afterwards, Cobb said it was meaningful, albeit an impromptu, callback to how the two walked off the field together following Cobb's first NFL game against the New Orleans Saints in 2011.
Like Crosby, Cobb is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The 32-year-old receiver had 32 receptions for 406 yards and a TD in 12 games.
"It was what it was. We kind of had a moment," Cobb said. "We kind of took it all in. I remember after my first ever football game here in Green Bay, us walking off the field together. It was a special feeling and this one felt a little different."
With two catches vs. the Lions, Cobb (532) moved past WR James Lofton (530) for No. 5 on the franchise all-time receptions list.
Nixon's knacks: Kickoff returner Keisean Nixon finished the season with a league-leading 1,009 on kickoff returns, becoming just the third player in team history to lead the NFL in the category (Al Carmichael in 1956 and 1957, Dave Hampton in 1971).
Nixon's average of 28.83 yards per kickoff return is the best single-season mark in franchise history among players with 30-plus kickoff returns.
Nixon became the fourth player since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to post 1,000-plus yards on 35 or fewer kickoff returns, joining Cordarrelle Patterson (2015, 2020), Joe McKnight (2011) and Alvin Haymond (1970).