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Packers following Christian Watson's lead to the end zone

Rookie receiver’s six touchdowns have sparked offense over past three games

WR Christian Watson
WR Christian Watson

GREEN BAY – Christian Watson was wrapping up his morning workout on Thursday when the impromptu announcement was made inside the Packers' weight room.

The second-round draft pick was informed he'd just been named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month following a breakthrough November in which Watson caught 14 passes for 289 yards and six touchdowns.

To make the moment even more memorable, Watson's future Hall of Fame quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, was the one to break the good news.

"I hadn't checked my phone or anything before I went in there," said Watson with a smile. "'12' actually congratulated me before I even knew. … It was a cool interaction."

It's the latest in a series of achievements for the rookie, who was hampered by hamstring injuries and a concussion through the first two months of the regular season.

Since returning to the lineup full-time against Dallas in Week 10, however, Watson has seemed to reinvigorate Green Bay's offense. In a 31-28 overtime win over the Cowboys, the Packers eclipsed 400 total yards of offense for the first time in six weeks.

While the Packers came up short in a 40-33 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday, it marked the first time Green Bay has scored more than 30 points in regulation in a game this season. What's more, Watson has touched the ball at least once on 10 of the Packers' 14 scoring drives over the past three games.

His 63-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Eagles put an emphatic end to his month, as Watson sped past Philadelphia safeties Reed Blankenship and Marcus Epps on his way to the end zone.

"It feels like it's something I've been doing all my life," Watson said. "I take a lot of pride in my speed. When I see somebody I think I can outrun, which is pretty much everybody, I'm going to do my best to utilize my speed in that way.

"If I'm able to cut off those angles, speed obviously kills those angles. It's just a big part of my game."

Watson was known for his speed and big-play ability at North Dakota State. Packers receivers coach Jason Vrable could see it scrolling through his film. Whether he was catching passes or running a jet sweep, Watson had a gateway to the open field.

That was even evident earlier this season in Minnesota and against Chicago in the first two games. It was only the back-to-back hamstring issues that slowed Watson's ascent.

"When we watched him in college, there were some plays on a jet sweep or kickoff return, and what you saw on the Philly clip is more what I saw in college," Vrable said. "What he did with the ball in his hands, there were very few guys in this draft class who could take a ball on the jet sweep and run 50 yards, and nobody is within 10 yards of him on the tape."

As talented as Watson was, his scoring binge has been perhaps the most stunning part of his surge. He had 16 offensive TDs in 52 games over four seasons for the Bison. Through his first nine NFL games, Watson is already at seven (six receiving, one rushing) on just 269 offensive snaps.

Watson leads both the Packers' offense and all NFL rookies in receiving touchdowns. For comparison, a rookie receiver hasn't led the Packers in TD receptions since 1978 when Pro Football Hall of Famer James Lofton paced Green Bay with six for the season.

Feeling healthy and confident, Watson believes he's still on the rise, and he's not alone in that assertion. Fellow rookie Romeo Doubs (ankle) returned to practice this week after a three-week absence, setting the table for Green Bay possibly having all its top receivers available for the first time all season in the not-so-distant future.

Meanwhile, the Packers' passing offense has risen to a season-best NFL ranking of 14th. Watson and the Packers hope recent trends are a harbinger of good things to come for this season and beyond.

"That's the craziest part is how quickly it's happened over this past month," Watson said. "I'm just taking it one week at a time and putting in that work, putting in that preparation in everything I need to do, and whatever happens on Sunday, happens.

"Obviously, I'm thankful for the opportunities. I know I'm not always going to have six touchdowns every month, but I think it was just a flash of what I'm able to do going forward."

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