DENVER – When the Packers needed a lift Sunday, their rookie skill-position players stepped up in a big way for the offense.
Although Green Bay fell 19-17 to the Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium, rookie receivers Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks, and tight end Luke Musgrave made several clutch plays in the second half to keep their team in the game.
Reed's heroics stood at the top of the list of contributions, as the rookie second-round pick kept his eyes locked on the ball on a 4-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Jordan Love fired a sidearm pass intended for second-year receiver Romeo Doubs, who was running a slant on the play. However, the ball was slightly behind Doubs and deflected off his hands and into the waiting arms of Reed.
"I salute Jayden because (like the) bumper sticker says stuff happens," Doubs said. "The ball went through my hands and luckily Jayden was right behind me."
Wicks, a fifth-round pick out of Virginia, helped get the Packers going after trailing 9-0 at halftime. In addition to a 17-yard catch on third-and-4, Wicks fired a misdirection pass to running back Aaron Jones for 14 yards to set up the Packers' first score.
Meanwhile, Musgrave led all Green Bay receivers with four receptions and held onto a key 18-yard catch in the fourth quarter despite taking a nasty hit from Broncos safety Kareem Jackson, who was then ejected for unnecessary roughness.
Musgrave left with an ankle injury following the hit, but the play proved to be the spark the Packers needed during the series that culminated in Reed's TD catch to give Green Bay a 17-16 lead.
"Just being at the right place at the right time," said Reed, who finished with three catches for 21 yards. "The ball fell in my hands and I just made the catch; fortunate to put us up."
Green Bay's rookie class finished with 97 total yards against Denver, another promising step for a young nucleus the Packers have needed to lean on during a challenging first half of 2023.
"I think it's just gonna make us a better team at the end," Jones said. "I know people don't want to hear … how we're young, but young teams have to learn to win, as well. Every team that I've been on we've had to learn how to win. This is our learning lesson and I think we'll get over that mountain."
Gutting it out: Jones was able to play against the Broncos but admitted afterwards he still wasn't 100%.
The Pro Bowl running back returned after missing three games with the hamstring injury he first suffered last month in Chicago.
"I feel better. I came into the game not 100 but muscled it out with my guys," said Jones, who had 57 total yards on 11 touches. "I'm just happy to be out there on the field. As these weeks keep going, hopefully I get back up to 100% and really came move how I want to move out there."
Injuries piled up for the Packers in Denver. In addition to Musgrave, Green Bay finished without defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt (knee), safety Darnell Savage (calf) and cornerback Eric Stokes (hamstring). All three previously dealt with their respective injury at some point this season.
The loss of Savage and Stokes was a tough blow for a secondary already playing without All-Pro Jaire Alexander, who aggravated his back injury in practice last week.
"We gotta see how it goes," cornerback Rasul Douglas said. "I have no idea what Coach (is) going to do. I have no status state of how Stokes feels or how Ja feels. I don't know. We'll see. I'm sure they'll do something to put all the best players in position to be good."
Check out photos from the Week 7 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023.
Doubs' pursuit rewarded: Doubs' 16-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter didn't come without a little drama, as he and Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. jousted over Love's pass in the end zone.
Officials eventually determined Doubs had secured possession of the ball, a ruling referee Alex Kemp clarified afterwards during an interview with PFWA pool reporter Jeff Legwold.
"We ruled on the field that the Green Bay receiver controlled the ball while airborne and came to the ground and never lost control of the ball and therefore, by rule, it is a touchdown," Kemp said.
NFL head of officiating Walt Anderson also confirmed the New York office reviewed the play and determined "the receiver never lost control of the ball from the time he initially possessed it until he completed the catch process on the ground."
Sensing Surtain Jr. closing on him, Doubs aggressively pursued Love's throw for his second touchdown of the season.
"I just had to get really aggressive because he came into my vision at the last minute," Doubs said. "I just came down with it."