MINNEAPOLIS -- Believe it or not, the would-be 75-yard touchdown pass that rookie receiver Christian Watson dropped on the Green Bay Packers' first offensive play of the season wasn't at the top of the list of things that bothered Aaron Rodgers after another season-opening dud.
All the mental mistakes, missed assignments and poor decisions -- including some by Rodgers himself -- in Sunday's 23-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium disturbed him much more.
"Obviously, it'd be great to have a 75-yard touchdown to start the game," Rodgers said. "But drops are going to happen. It's part of the game. It's the mental stuff that we just can't have because we're hurting ourselves. Whether we're going the wrong way on a block or missing a protection something or missing a hot [route] or not running the right route [at] the right depth, there was just too many mental mistakes."
Such was life in the first game without Davante Adams.
While Rodgers' former favorite target caught 10 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown in his debut with the Las Vegas Raiders, his new-look receiver group (which was missing presumed No. 1 target Allen Lazard because of an ankle injury) combined for only 12 catches for 120 yards and no touchdowns.
It would have looked different if Watson, the Packers' second-round draft pick, had not let a ball slip through his hands after he had more than 3 yards of separation against Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson.
"That's just a play I know I gotta make," said Watson, who finished with two catches for 34 yards. "Most of the time, it's a play I know I'm capable of making. Just gotta put that in the past and move on."
But there were other issues: Fellow rookie receiver Romeo Doubs (four catches for 37 yards) got his signals crossed with Rodgers at least once. After Watson's drop, he wasn't targeted again until late in the fourth quarter. After Rodgers and Doubs appeared to miscommunicate on a third down midway through the first quarter, he wasn't targeted again until the third quarter.
"Look, we've got to have patience with those guys," said Rodgers, who finished 22-for-34 passing for 195 yards and no touchdowns to offset the interception. "They're young. They haven't been in the fire. The patience will be thinner as the season goes on, but the expectation will be high. We'll keep them accountable, but it's going to happen. There's going to be drops. Hate to see it on the first play, but it's part of it -- there's going to be drops throughout the season."
Rodgers second-guessed himself, too. He said he should have pulled a quarterback keeper on the failed fourth-and-goal from the 1 run by AJ Dillon in the second quarter. He called his interception in the final minute of the first half a "dumb decision." That throw, which Harrison Smith picked off, ended Rodgers' streak of touchdowns without an interception against an NFC North foe at 38 -- the most consecutive touchdown passes without a pick in divisional games in NFL history.
A year ago, after the Packers were drilled 38-3 in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints, Rodgers drew criticism for playing it off as no big deal. And, of course, the Packers went on to finish 13-4 and earn the NFC's No. 1 seed.
He still had his sense of humor after this one.
"We scored four more points than we did that day," Rodgers said with a smile. "There's a lot to build on when you compare the two. Look, it's tough to win in this league, and it's definitely tough when you get in your own way too many times. So, I felt like we did some good things. Maybe we've got to get some more touches for Jonesy [Aaron Jones] and [AJ] Dillon. Made a lot of mistakes in the perimeter, missed some throws, so there's a lot to clean up all the way around."
Perhaps the offensive performance should have been expected given the loss of Adams combined with the absence of Lazard and starting tackles David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, who have not been cleared to return from knee surgeries. But the struggles by the defense, one that Rodgers praised repeatedly in training camp, were unexpected. It couldn't stop Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson (nine catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns).
"This is two years in a row where we've come out Week 1 and have not looked prepared," said Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who fell to 2-2 in season openers but is 37-9 in all other games.