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Key to the game: Rookies' first TDs pace Packers' banged-up offense

Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks combined for three scores in Atlanta

Packers WR Jayden Reed
Packers WR Jayden Reed

ATLANTA – Last week in Chicago, the Packers were without top receiver Christian Watson. On Sunday in Atlanta, Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones was added to the list of inactives.

Down its two biggest offensive juggernauts due to hamstring ailments, Green Bay had to get even more creative against the Falcons and found production behind the combination of rookie wideouts Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks.

While the Packers fell 25-24 after Atlanta's fourth-quarter flurry, Reed and Wicks combined for six catches for 77 yards and the three touchdown receptions that staked Green Bay to a double-digit lead entering the final period.

"They played a really good game," second-year receiver Romeo Doubs said. "They were able to get their feet wet a little bit into this league. Just can't wait to see them continue to grow from this."

Knowing his team would without Watson and Jones against Atlanta's veteran secondary, Head Coach Matt LaFleur dialed up a flea-flicker on the first offensive play of the game.

The Packers got the look they wanted. From there, it was on the offensive line to give Packers quarterback Jordan Love time and Wicks to get vertical.

The rookie fifth-round pick, who didn't have a catch in Green Bay's 38-20 win over Chicago last week, did his job and got behind cornerback A.J. Terrell. After AJ Dillon pitched the ball back to Love, Wicks came free to draw the 44-yard defensive pass interference penalty to flip the field position.

To start the third quarter, Wicks again got the offense moving after he motioned across the line of scrimmage and caught a pass across the middle on first-and-10 from the Atlanta 32.

The rookie fifth-round pick shook free from his man and extended the play to the end zone for his first career touchdown that extended Green Bay's lead to 17-9 at the time.

"It was all on me to score," Wicks said. "Coach (Jason) Vrable always says shoot your shot and don't get tackled by one person. I seen it. I had the vision. When I saw the touchdown, that's what I was shooting for, to go get that."

Reed, one of Green Bay's two second-round picks last April, followed up a promising debut against the Bears with a team-high four catches for 37 yards and two touchdowns.

His 9-yard touchdown across the middle came at the start of the second quarter and gave the Packers their first lead of the game. After Doubs drew a 43-yard defensive pass interference penalty near the end of the third quarter, Reed ran a delayed route to the pylon for a 10-yard score to extend the Packers' lead to 24-12.

In doing so, Reed became the first Packers receiver since James Lofton in 1978 to score multiple TDs in a game during his first two games with the team.

"It's always great to put points on the board," Reed said. "I ran a few jet sweeps and I had a little flat route and got the touchdown. We just took advantage of what they gave us."

Unfortunately for the Packers, the offensive momentum came to a halt in the fourth quarter. Green Bay went without a first down on three straight possessions to end the game, allowing the Falcons to claw back for 13 unanswered points and the victory.

Check out photos from the Week 2 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023.

"You gotta bring it for four quarters," Reed said. "In the NFL, you gotta keep swinging until the last whistle. It don't stop. That's what I learned."

Along with second-round tight end Luke Musgrave, the Packers' rookie class combined for 102 of Love's 151 passing yards. It's production Green Bay hopes to continue to cultivate, especially once Watson and Jones return.

Until then, the young Packers can only learn from what unfolded in Atlanta and apply those lessons when opening their home slate at Lambeau Field next Sunday against New Orleans.

"It was really frustrating that we couldn't come out with the win," Wicks said. "That happens in the league. Starting to realize that now. We just gotta get back to what we're doing and let that motivate us, let this week motivate us, and then let the long week get us right."


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