Anatomy of a Play: Inside Jaylen Watson's game-winning pick-six

Anatomy of a Play: Inside Jaylen Watson's game-winning pick-six

Published September 16, 2022
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“I woke up knowing I was going to get a pick.”

That’s what Kansas City Chiefs seventh-round rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson told the media after his team’s 27-24 Thursday night win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Watson’s 99-yard pick-six was the difference in the game. With 10:43 remaining, the Chargers had the ball at the Kansas City three-yard line, and quarterback Justin Herbert tried to hit tight end Gerald Everett to the right side of the field for an allegedly easy touchdown.

In the end, the Chiefs had Everett’s path better-planned than Everett did.

THE ROOK WITH A 99-YARD PICK SIX‼️ @jaylenwatson12 pic.twitter.com/fNZkRQL1wU

— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) September 16, 2022

99 yards later, the Chiefs had a 24-17 lead.

Had first-round rookie cornerback Trent McDuffie not suffered a hamstring injury in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals. Watson might not have been on the field at all. But he was, and he knew that he would have more than his share of opportunities against Herbert and the Chargers’ passing game.

“I just knew, being a seventh-rounder and getting my first start, I was going to get tested a lot, and early. I just felt I was going to get one today, and that’s what happened.

“I was surprised, but I still knew I was going to get one.”

The pick-six was the latest step in an improbable journey for the Washington State alum by way of Ventura College in California. Academic issues forced Watson to de-commit from USC five months after committing to the school in 2019, and he got his associates’ degree with a straight-A average after that all happened. Watson worked with his mom at a Wendy’s in Georgia for a time during the bridge point in his football career, so he was used to surprising people — and surprising himself.

As to the play itself, there was an element of improbability there as well — bad luck and miscommunication on the Chargers’ side, and from the Chiefs’ perspective, knowing what the Chargers were going to do.

(Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)

Everett had been Herbert’s target on the two plays before the impactful interception, catching passes for seven and 26 yards. Everett was clearly indicating that he wanted off the field, and he said after the game that he was through an sprained ankle he suffered in Week 1 against the Las Vegas Raiders. But since the Chargers were using a hurry-up offense at that point, there obviously wasn’t going to be time for a substitution.

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“We were going no-huddle, so I had to stay in,” Everett recalled. “And it just didn’t go our way… I was trying to let one of my guys come out there and get me, instead of me being out there hurt, but that’s how the game goes.”

That was part one of the miscommunication to set up the play.

“Yeah, it was just unlucky what happened,” Staley said about Everett wanting to get off the field there. “We felt like we could push the pace, and it didn’t work out.”

Though he was injured, Everett stayed in the game, catching two more passes for 20 yards on three more targets. But those are not the targets people will remember.

(Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

The Chargers ran a two-man switch on the right side, with Everett (No. 7) and receiver Josh Palmer (No. 5) crossing their routes and hoping to get an opening in coverage that way. But Watson (No. 35) and safety Justin Reid (No. 20) stuck with their assignments in red zone Cover-0.

“So, we know that they liked to throw those switch routes.” Watson said. “Especially in the high red [zone]. So, me and Justin, we just worked together. The ball just ended up in my chest, and I took it home.

“It was a surreal feeling. I’m just so grateful and blessed to be in this position. I didn’t even know what to do when I got in the end zone; that’s why everyone saw me just standing there. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”

Staley got into where things went wrong from a route perspective.

“When [the tight end] is matched in the flat, the tight end has the option to come back in. And so, I think Justin was expecting him to come back in on that. But it’s just one of those unlucky things that happens and obviously we’ll learn a lot from it,”

Herbert did not speak to the media after the game because he was being checked for injuries, but Everett agreed that miscommunication on the route was the root cause.

“I guess Justin thought that I was going to box the guy out, but [Watson] played it pretty well,” Everett said. “He just kind of sat on it, and I tried to stutter him and get to the pylon, but ball was in the air by the time we had realized we weren’t on the same page.”

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On the runback, Watson was concerned with just one thing: That he couldn’t break Rule No. 1 in the DB room.

“We have a rule — never get tackled by the quarterback.” Watson said. “So. that was my first job; making a move on him, and then, just trying to race to the end zone.”

(Syndication: Arizona Republic)

If Watson did surprise himself with the pick-six, it’s not a stretch to say that his coaches saw something good coming.

“He had a good camp,” head coach Andy Reid said. “You saw him progressively get better through camp. He played, obviously, at a high level in college, so he’s played against good competition. Good size, can run — you saw that after the interception — that was beautiful.”

Reid also had an eye on Watson in preparation for the Chargers game, based on how well he replaced McDuffie in Week 1.

“Yeah, I thought he did a nice job,” Chiefs HC Andy Reid said of Watson on Monday, per Chiefs Wire. “[The draft] pick doesn’t matter now, right? It’s a matter of how he continues to up his game with the things that he’s seeing there. That’s the important part and focusing in on the game plan and being able to execute that absolutely [the] best he can. There’s a lot to do when you start getting ready for these things, especially a Thursday night, you don’t have the whole training camp to get ready for it.”

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo also liked what he saw based on the Cardinals game. Watson did give up a six-yard touchdown to Arizona receiver Marquise Brown on an out route to the boundary, but he also had a great breakup pass as Kyler Murray tried to hit A.J. Green downfield.

“I was really happy with how Jaylen went in there and did what he did,” Spagnuolo said. “They challenged him right away, which is what real good teams do. And he made that play down the sideline, which was good to see.”

As McDuffie will be out at least four weeks with that hamstring injury, Watson can expected to be tested more often — starting with the Chiefs’ game against the Indianapolis Colts next Sunday.

So far, Watson has proven to be up to just about anything you throw at him – literally and figuratively.

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