GREEN BAY – It was supposed to be a short breather, just enough time for Jamaal Williams to catch his breath after taking part in about 50 plays and touching the ball on almost half of them.
The Green Bay Packers rookie running back signaled to the sideline that he needed a break.
“I was trying to get just one play and come back in,” Williams said.
Williams’ impact on the Packers’ 26-20 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field on Sunday was going to carry over into the next play and make him the hero of this unlikely victory even if he didn’t score the touchdown that won it.
Fellow rookie Aaron Jones, who owned the No. 1 running back position before tearing his medial collateral ligament against Chicago three weeks ago, came in for just his second play of the game.
With 6 minutes, 8 seconds left in the 10-minute extra period, Jones took the handoff from quarterback Brett Hundley, saw his path up the middle cut off and bounced the play to the left. Before anyone knew it, Jones was diving into the end zone to lift the Packers to 6-6 and keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
“As soon as I saw Aaron do that thing, and pop out, I’m like, ‘I’m good, he gone. Touchdown.’ ” Williams said.
The fact Jones could bounce the play outside and have only one defender with any hope of bringing him down was a tribute to Williams’ 21 carries for 113 yards and a touchdown in the previous 63 minutes, 52 seconds.
Williams had repeatedly pounded the ball between the tackles and the Buccaneers had no choice but to start committing hard to the run.
On the final play, the Packers ran a “power” or gap scheme to the right, hoping to get Jones running behind guard Lane Taylor. But the Buccaneers had 10 players rush the line of scrimmage and Jones had nothing open to the right.
So, he bounced off tight end Richard Rodgers and headed left. As he turned the corner, receiver Jordy Nelson, who had stopped because the play was going the other direction, went and found cornerback Brent Grimes and shielded him off.
Jones outran everyone else and scored.
“As much as we run inside - running inside zone, inside zone, gap schemes - they start filling the hole and clogging up the middle. It frees up the edges,” right tackle Jason Spriggs said.
“And like what happened with Aaron, everybody just flooded the middle and he was able to escape.”
The Packers’ eight-play, 72-yard game-winning drive was a combination of skill, determination and opportunity. But it also highlighted an adjustment coach Mike McCarthy made in the run game that he probably should have made a lot earlier.
The Packers won the overtime toss and here’s how the game-winning drive went:
First and 10 at the Green Bay 28: McCarthy called the first of several “power” plays and Williams followed Taylor to the right for a 2-yard gain. The Buccaneers’ linebackers and safeties came crashing down to keep Williams from churning forward as he had done most of the game.
Second and 8 at the Green Bay 30: McCarthy called a zone run with tight end Lance Kendricks motioning across to cut the backside end. Williams managed just 4 yards.
Third and 4 at the 34: Hundley had three receivers spread out and Kendricks standing up at the left tight end spot. The Buccaneers had six on the line of scrimmage but rushed only four, leaving Hundley indecisive and in a scrambling posture.
Hundley broke out to the right. End Will Clarke dived at Hundley’s ankles and missed, and safety Keith Tandy got there too late, forcing Hundley out of bounds at the 41.
First and 10 at the 41: Hundley took a shot down the field to Nelson, who was blanketed by nickel back Ryan Smith. The play had absolutely no chance even though Hundley had a lot of time to throw.
Second and 10 at the 41: With two receivers to the left and one to the right and Williams to his left, Hundley took the snap from the shotgun formation.
Kendricks, who was lined up next to Spriggs, heard something alarming from the Buccaneers defense.
“They were calling it out, ‘Watch the zone read,’ ” Kendricks said.
Hundley ran that exact play, putting the ball in Williams’ gut while reading whether end William Gholston crashed down on the back or honored Hundley as a potential runner. Gholston, along with weak-side linebacker Lavonte David, crashed on Williams, so Hundley kept the ball and ran around end.
“I think Jamaal was having such a good game, I think that threat of him getting that ball in his hand caused them to really play the run,” said Kendricks, who released and wound up blocking Tandy to spring Hundley for an 18-yard gain.
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“You don’t really know until the linebackers start flying (whether Hundley has kept it),” Taylor said. “It was a good time to call it.”
First and 10 at the Tampa Bay 41: McCarthy called another “power” run, this time to the left with right guard Jahri Evans pulling.
Receiver Randall Cobb, who was in the slot, worked up and blocked Tandy, so that when Evans got there he had no one to block.
“I think I hit Randall’s guy,” Evans said. “The guy I was supposed to do, he ran through the gap. Lane took him. There wasn’t anybody for me to hit, so I just took it around the tight end and saw color.”
Williams ran into Cobb and then got hit from the side by cornerback Robert McClain at the 38. Tandy grabbed him around the legs from behind, but Williams dragged him and McClain all the way to the 32.
“I was like, ‘Snap, they’re going to just let me keep rolling,’ ” Williams said. “’I’m going to keep pushing.’”
BOX SCORE: Packers 26, Bucs 20 (OT)
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The beauty of the “power” plays the Packers ran late in the fourth quarter and overtime was that it neutralized defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and the linebackers from shooting gaps and blowing up the zone runs.
McCoy had ruined a fourth-quarter drive by shooting past Evans and tackling Williams for a 3-yard loss. Evans had to worry about McCoy putting a swim move on him and beating him to the right if he over-pursued McCoy to the left.
“So, when you have him on the two-way go, I can overthink and say I don’t want to go too far and he swims me and back doors me,” Evans said. “And I don’t want to be too late or you see exactly what happened.
“When you have that gap (power) scheme you’re protected on one side.”
Second and 1 at the 32: The Buccaneers were completely locked in on Williams, so McCarthy called a fake jet sweep to Cobb and sent Williams into the right flat. Linebacker Kwon Alexander bit on the fake and was late getting out to Williams, who caught the ball at the 31, stiff-armed Alexander and tip-toed along the sideline until going out of bounds at the 20.
“I think just they were used to seeing Randall coming on those sweeps and getting the ball,” Williams said. “We haven’t really done any halfback slides coming out of the backfield. It was just good to get the first down.”
First and 10 at the 20: Williams went to the sideline and in came Jones. It was not even clear if the Buccaneers knew that Jones was in the game or that he had the kind of jump-cut moves he does.
“Ran a power play, I pulled,” Taylor said. “I knew it was going to be a little jumbled up because guys were just crashing down and I had to come around. He had great vision and stayed alive.
“That was make something out of nothing. He was ready to go. His first carry, right?”
Just the one, to give Williams a breather.