GREEN BAY - Whatever kaleidoscope of butterflies toyed with running back Aaron Jones in the buildup to his first career start surely dissipated on the second play from scrimmage for the Green Bay Packers.
Jones took the hand-off from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, turned the corner off the left side of the offensive line and followed a wall of blockers for an easy 13-yard gain.
Two snaps later, Jones turned the corner again and was untouched for the first 4 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He broke an arm tackle, rumbled across the line to gain and gobbled up another 8 yards to ignite a breakthrough performance that proved to the rookie he could succeed in the National Football League.
“It shows that I belong at this level,” Jones said of his 19-carry, 125-yard performance while filling in for starter Ty Montgomery. And when the Packers returned to the practice field Wednesday to begin preparations for the Minnesota Vikings, the rookie was reminded that he couldn’t have done it alone.
Said Jones: “Today when we were in the huddle Aaron (Rodgers) was like, ‘You got something to say to the O-line?’ I told them thank you, and Marty (Bennett) was like, ‘Hey, don’t forget about me and the receivers!’”
Bennett’s point was well-taken after a game in which he and fellow tight end Lance Kendricks, along with nearly all of the wide receivers, provided excellent blocks to supplement a road-grading effort by the offensive line. Kendricks in particular had arguably his best blocking performance of the season and sprung a number of lengthy runs by winning one-on-one matchups against larger players.
When it mattered most on the winning drive, wideouts Geronimo Allison and Randall Cobb delivered key blocks to keep the two-minute drill alive.
“It was very good,” coach Mike McCarthy said of the complementary blocking. “I think our receivers are doing a very good job and then definitely our tight end blocking this year is probably been the best it’s been in my time here.
“We’re going to need it this week (against the Minnesota Vikings). These guys, they do a good job in run defense and their safeties are downhill. I think (Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo) are two of their three leading tacklers and they hit it downhill, they anticipate plays, they’re heavy in disguise, they’re really into your mannerisms and the things that you do offensively, so you’ve got to be sharp there, too.”
Tight end blocking is where it all started against the Cowboys, and both of the aforementioned runs by Jones — the 13-yard scamper on his first carry and the 8-yard burst on his second — were triggered in part by terrific blocks from Kendricks along the line of scrimmage.
Kendricks began with a textbook solo block to seal off the 295-pound Tyrone Crawford off left tackle. This allowed lineman Lane Taylor to pull outside and lead Jones around the corner unimpeded. Two plays later, Kendricks combined with Taylor to stonewall Crawford again as Jones picked up another first down. Later, in the second half, Kendricks ensnared linebacker Kyle Wilber to spring Jones for 7 more yards.
Bennett did his part as well to seal the edge on a beautiful cutback by Jones that went for 22 yards in the third quarter. As Jones cut from left to right, Bennett walled off the right side of the Cowboys’ rush.
“I just watch them sometimes and their steps mirror some of the linemen’s steps,” Allison said of tight ends Bennett and Kendricks. “When they’re in their pass set and they’re stepping down or kicking out, they have the similar footwork. That’s just kudos to them for critiquing themselves and critiquing their game and getting themselves to that point.”
Said Jones: “They definitely did a great job blocking downfield all game.”
If Bennett and Kendricks did most of the early lifting, the game-winning drive belonged to the wide receivers. Rodgers fired a quick pass to Bennett on the second snap for what amounted to a tight end screen. Cobb erased cornerback Orlando Scandrick in the slot and Allison locked up cornerback Anthony Brown on the perimeter. Bennett chugged into gear for a 14-yard gain.
Two plays later, Rodgers astutely called for a running back draw with the Cowboys expecting pass. Jones burst into open space across the line of scrimmage and angled toward the right sideline for 15 yards. Had Allison not cleared out his defender, Jones might have been tackled in bounds with the clock running. Instead, he scooted out of bounds behind Allison to preserve the final timeout.
“A lot of times runs that do get sprung for a 10-yard-plus gain are due to blocks that happen on the perimeter,” Allison said. “So we pride ourselves in blocking for our teammates. That’s our brother that’s running the ball, so as long we get into position to get in front of our man and don’t allow our defender to make the play, a lot of times plays like that will spring for more than they’re supposed to.”
Jones had plenty of teammates to thank.