GREEN BAY - Aaron Jones was waiting. The Green Bay Packers rookie running back first learned Saturday morning he’d be active against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He didn’t know how many carries he’d get Sunday, only that he’d play.
Be ready for anything, coaches told him.
Jones couldn’t anticipate how long he’d wait. Ready for anything? No, after missing the past two games with a knee injury, Jones did not expect his first carry would be a 20-yard, walk-off touchdown in overtime, the rookie diving head-first into the end zone to give the Packers a 26-20 win that kept their playoff hopes alive.
Through four quarters against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jones got one snap. It was a play-action pass. He was the decoy. Otherwise, when the Packers' offense was on the field, Jones stood next to the sideline heaters to keep warm. He rode the stationary bike four times throughout the game, trying to stay loose.
“Once a quarter,” Jones said.
He did not expect to be part of the Packers' first overtime drive. No need after fellow rookie Jamaal Williams spent four quarters taking names and leaving dents in the Buccaneers' defense. Williams’ hard, downhill running style overwhelmed the Bucs. He finished with 113 yards on 21 carries.
Jones waited for his turn.
It was more likely, he thought, to come next week in Cleveland, but Williams was gassed. He’d just tight-roped the right sideline for a 12-yard catch, pushing the Packers into the red zone. It was the second straight play Williams touched the football. Understandably, the Packers' workhorse needed a break.
“It just went well for me,” Jones said, smiling.
His wait over, Jones followed left guard Lane Taylor into the right B gap. There was no lane. Instinctively, after four quarters of Williams’ between-the-tackles pounding, the Bucs flooded the box. Jones figured it was a numbers game. With too many defenders filling the interior, he reasoned, there would be room to run outside.
He was correct.
Defensive end Will Clarke was among the Bucs defenders who vacated the perimeter, crashing inside. Safety Justin Evans read Taylor’s pull block and flooded the opposite B gap, exposing the play’s back side. With nowhere to run, Jones determined he had nothing to lose if he reversed field.
Containment was compromised off left tackle when Clarke and Evans filled the middle of the field, leaving nothing but green grass between Jones and the end zone. David Bakhtiari tried to offer a block against Clarke, but he whiffed. Jones reversed field too fast for Bakhtiari to get an angle.
Good thing the rookie was also too fast for Clarke.
“I’d love to say I helped the touchdown,” Bakhtiari said, “but I couldn’t really get anything on 94. The guy is explosive. He’s a very explosive person. Thankful he outran him, because the last thing I want to see is an ankle tackle.
“Everything happens for a reason. They definitely were trying to make sure that nothing got up the middle.”
The Packers have a good problem on their hands. Similar to a team that must choose between two quality quarterbacks, the Packers will need to figure out how to fit Williams and Jones in their offense. Both rookies have shown
they’re capable of carrying the running game on their own.
5 TAKEAWAYS: Early capsule review of the game
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Together? That’s something the Packers have not yet seen.
Their potential is tantalizing. The Packers caught a glimpse of it Sunday afternoon. Not wanting to overwork Jones in his first game back from a torn MCL, Williams was their featured tailback. After finishing with 135 offensive yards and two touchdowns the previous week in Pittsburgh, Williams had the first 100-yard game of his career Sunday.
Williams also had the longest run of his career, taking off for 25 yards around the left side. It more than doubled his previous career-long run of 12 yards.
The rookie continues to make explosive plays, but it’s Williams’ downhill running that’s most impressive. Perhaps his best carry Sunday was a 1-yard touchdown. Williams willed it to happen on his own. Bucs safety Chris Conte hit him at the 3-yard line, but the rookie steamrolled the veteran into the end zone.
“Just moving the pile,” Williams said.
The Packers have the beginnings of a lightning-and-thunder tandem that can anchor their running game for years, making their offense only that much better whenever Aaron Rodgers returns from his broken collarbone. As runners, Bakhtiari said, the duo couldn’t be more different. Williams’ relentless punishment wears on a defense. Jones has the vision and burst to make a defense pay when it fatigues.
BOX SCORE: Packers 26, Bucs 20 (OT)
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The Packers saw how that can benefit them in overtime. Their final three snaps Sunday: Williams run for 9 yards, Williams catch for 12, and a Jones run for 20.
“I feel like (Williams) set up that last play,” Jones said, “by wearing them out all game, fighting for the extra yards. When I came in, I was fresh legs. I was just able to get around the corner, and, boom.
“Just stay ready. You never know when your number is going to be called. When it is, you just have to make the most of it.”