GREEN BAY – Jamaal Williams wanted to score. Of course he did. A game-winning touchdown would’ve been the perfect capper to this night, an emphatic punctuation to the message he’d sent, a reminder the Green Bay Packers had not just one good running back, but actually two.
He wanted to score as soon as he took the handoff at the 15-yard line. He wanted to score when the Detroit Lions defense parted like the Red Sea, practically pleading for him to go right ahead. He wanted to score as he dashed inside the 10, a pair of linebackers watching him, standing still.
“I thought about it so bad,” Williams said. “Oh, I wanted to.”
The problem, Williams knew, was the Lions wanted him to score too. No, they needed him to score.
Williams’ veteran teammates warned him in the huddle. The Packers were at the 11-yard line, 96 seconds left, down two. The Lions were out of timeouts. Game over.
Williams heard it from veteran tight ends Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis. He heard it from his offensive line. He heard it from Aaron Rodgers.
“You want to (score),” Williams said. “Trust me, you do. But you have to think, ‘What’s better for the team?’ Is it better for the team, or is it better for me?
“I do what’s best for the team all the time.”
The final play from scrimmage (besides two kneel-downs) Monday night was no different. Three yards from the end zone, nobody between him and the goal line, the Lions practically pleading with Williams to take the touchdown, Williams didn’t. Instead, he sat on the field, allowing the clock to run down.
Mason Crosby drilled his 23-yard game winner as time expired, giving the Packers their first lead all night, and with it a 23-22 win.
It was redemption for Crosby, who missed four field goals in a loss at Detroit last year, then had to compete for his job all offseason. For Williams, it was the personification of his role on this team, a perfect example of the selflessness he’s shown teammates every day for three seasons.
In everything Williams does, he’s put the Packers first. If that means being known for pass blocking more than carrying the football, so be it. If it means playing second fiddle to teammate Aaron Jones, who was drafted one round later than Williams in the same 2017 class, that’s fine too. For most of the past three seasons, Jones found himself in the limelight while Williams has been stuck in the shadow. Jones, a dynamic playmaker in the open field, has earned that recognition.
On Monday, Williams showed he can make plenty of plays too.
Williams led the Packers with 104 yards on 14 carries – but, notably, no rushing touchdowns – in his first game back after clearing concussion protocol. It was only the second 100-yard game of his career, the other coming as a rookie in 2017. He did find the end zone on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers, part of his four receptions for 32 yards.
The Packers, wary not to use Jones extensively for the second straight week, let Williams carry the load. Williams made that decision easy.
“We’ve got two good backs,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “Go with the hot hand.”
Williams was not only the hot hand, but an ideal complement to Jones’ slashing style. A power runner, Williams bulldozed his way through the middle of the Lions' defense. Most of his yardage came downhill, Williams taking a direct line. That was the case on his 45-yard run inside the two-minute warning of the first half. Williams, more rumbling than a sprint, split the A gap, made Lions safety Tavon Wilson miss in the open field, and was off to the races.
It was the longest run of Williams’ career – by 19 yards. Naturally, he wanted to score on that play, too. Instead, Lions cornerback Darius Slay caught Williams at the 10-yard line.
“Shoot,” Williams said, “I was trying to go to the house, but I didn’t know how close he was to me. These dudes love stripping the football, and I was like, ‘They ain’t going to get it from me. I’ll run down there with two hands on it.’ I almost outran him, though. Oh, I almost got him.
“And I could hear him. I heard him fading, you know. I heard him fading away, until he jumped for it.”
Allow Williams to believe that, on this night. The power back was the star. He deserved a slice of glory.
It’s something that might not fade in the near future. With top receiver Davante Adams out because of a turf toe injury, it’s clear the Packers’ strength is their backfield. Williams’ power and Jones’ slashing can create quite the combination, giving defenses fits. Add Jones’ 47 yards on 11 carries, as well as his 13 receiving yards on four catches, and the running back tandem combined for 196 of the Packers’ 447 yards (43 percent).
“They have such different styles,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said, “and they’re both capable of having big nights every night. So I’m not shocked at all. I’m not shocked.”
Neither was Williams.
No matter how much hype surrounds his counterpart, Williams’ confidence never wavers. When asked afterward if he knew his 45-yard run was a career long, Williams shook his head no. At some point, Williams figured, he’d broken off another big run.
That he didn’t remember wasn’t a surprise. Williams isn’t a stat counter. Maybe most remarkable, he’s never let Jones’ success – or the recognition – affect their relationship. They might not hold joint interviews like Za’Darius and Preston Smith, but Williams and Jones have been close since the day they were drafted.
That’s not about to change.
“I don’t need recognition,” Williams said, “to know what type of running back I am. I’m always going to come in, be a professional, do my job and do what’s best for the team. If it’s running the ball, if it’s blocking, I have no problem doing that. I know what type of person I am, what type of running back I am. I know the type of things I can do. I know I can score the ball by running out of the backfield, receiving, blocking, do anything. I’m an all-around back.
“I say that all the time, no matter what people think of me. I just go out there and do my best and show people who think the (something) different of me, the whole opposite of what they thought of me.”