GREEN BAY, Wis. — When Jordan Love underthrew a deep ball (again) that Christian Watson failed to adjust to (again) in the second quarter Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, it looked like another day of the same old, same old from the Green Bay Packers’ punchless offense
Without having a knack for making anything happen downfield and without a receiver who could pull it off, Love seemed doomed to repeat the offensive frustrations of the first seven games this season.
Except the Packers had a couple of new things going for them against the Rams: They had a first-half touchdown (the first in 49 days) and they had an unrestricted Aaron Jones (the first time since the running back injured a hamstring in the season opener).
Still, the combination of the fast-ish start plus some semblance of a running game was only good enough to forge a 13-3 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
And then Watson made it happen. He spun around, posted up on Rams safety Russ Yeast and reached high for a 37-yard grab at the Rams’ 23-yard line. It was Watson’s only catch of the game, but it reinforced what had been missing from the Packers’ offense at the beginning of the Love era this season.
Two plays later, Love hit rookie tight end Luke Musgrave down the middle — after a double-fake screen to each side of the formation — for a 20-yard touchdown on the way to a 20-3 victory that ended a four-game losing streak for the Packers (3-5).
It was hard to tell who needed the deep ball more. Love, whose downfield accuracy had come into question? Or Watson, who barely resembled the big-play receiver he was during the second half of last season?
“I think just for everybody — for him, for myself — it’s a confidence booster to be able to go out there and make that play,” Love said. “It’s huge. It’s a big-time catch for him. It’s exactly what we needed in that situation.”
Jones’ season-high 24 touches (20 carries for 73 yards and four catches for 26 yards) and the Packers’ season-high 184 yards rushing might be the baseline for a successful offense. But it won’t mean much without the ability to throw — and connect on — some deep balls.
“It was great to see Christian Watson go up and win a 50-50 ball that led to the touchdown,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said after the game. “That was a huge play, and that’s something that we’ve been stressing and we haven’t executed, obviously, up to this point.”
Watson was off limits to reporters on Monday because he was still being evaluated for a concussion after a hard fall on his catch, but LaFleur said later that Watson was not concussed, though the team was still monitoring him.
“He’s a guy that makes those plays,” Musgrave said.
Not this season, he hadn’t. Other than his 77-yard catch-and-run that was stopped short of a touchdown against the Raiders last month, Watson had been largely a nonfactor.
Of course, it takes a quarterback to put the ball on the money too. Love’s underthrow earlier in the game was emblematic of a season-long issue.
“There’s going to be times where you’re not going to throw the perfect ball, and certainly I think more than anything else, you’d like to just, when we get behind a defense, you’ve got to give your guy a chance to go up and make a play,” LaFleur said Monday after reviewing the film. “And he just was a little too, I would say, tempo’d. You’ve got to trust it and let it rip.”
Love was 6-of-8 on passes thrown 10 or more yards in the air on Sunday, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That 75% clip was well above his league-worst 36% completion rate on such throws entering the game. He completed 85% of his passes to wide receivers (11-of-13) after entering the week with a league-worst 50% rate on those throws.
“I think we just stuck with it,” Jones said of the passing game. “Things didn’t go our way at first. But we know it’ll change. You keep working at those things, we work it every day when you’re in here. It’s harped that our playmakers gotta make a play when the opportunity’s presented. [If] you don’t make the play, you’re coming back to the sideline hearing about it.”
It will get more difficult considering the next four games come against the Steelers (5-3), Chargers (3-4), Lions (6-2) and Chiefs (7-2). But Love finished 20-of-26 for 228 yards with one touchdown and ended a streak of five straight games with an interception. It came at the end of a week when the person who drafted Love, general manager Brian Gutekunst, had to answer questions about whether he will be the long-term franchise quarterback.
The more Love can connect on the deep shots, the easier the rest of the season could get.
“I just think he’s got to shut his mind off and let it rip,” LaFleur said Monday. “I think a lot of times when you try to aim something or guide it, you’re not going to be as successful. He’s been throwing the ball for a long time. I think he’s done a much better job of putting air under the ball.
“I think, shoot, two of the explosion plays we had in the second half, the one to [Dontayvion] Wicks, I thought that was an unbelievable pass. I know it wasn’t a go ball, but he had pressure in his face, and he stayed in platform, changed his arm angle and threw the ball right on the money to Wicks. And then followed that up the next play on that deep cross route to Musgrave, that was a beautiful pass as well. He certainly can make all those throws.”