Eye-popping performance stamps Aaron Jones as a true dual threat
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Corey Linsley laughed on his way out of the locker room in Arrowhead Stadium late Sunday night. There are no more surprises for Aaron Jones to pull. Not after a seven-catch, 159-yard, two-touchdown game as a receiver and a 67-yard rushing effort — including 37 in the fourth quarter.
If there were any “firsts” left for the third-year back out of the University of Texas-El Paso, who walked into the stadium in his green and gold sombrero, they were erased when he was the first running back on the team to not only have a wide receiver screen called for, but then to take it 67 yards to the house for the game-winning touchdown in a 31-24 victory over the Chiefs.
“It’s ridiculous,” wide receiver Allen Lazard said.
It’s not the fact that the running back is now a true “dual threat” that was eye opening: Jones had already surpassed his career high in receptions coming in and his seven receptions Sunday matched a season high (Dallas). It’s that he was used as the fifth wide receiver in certain personnel packages, with Jamaal Williams in the traditional running back spot next to Aaron Rodgers.
“It’s legit like we’ve got extra receivers on the field,” Lazard said. “It’s a huge advantage.”
Both of Jones’ receiving touchdowns came when he was a wide receiver — though he laughed and said he had no idea if he would’ve been classified as an “X” or a “Z” in any of the formations.
“I don’t even know what it was,” he said, smiling. “They told me short motion and they told me quick screen to the halfback and I’m like, OK. It’s called and I’m glad it was called.”
On the first touchdown pass from the Chiefs’ 4-yard line in the first quarter, Jones motioned across the formation and lined up off left tackle David Bakhtiari and inside wide receiver Jake Kumerow. Williams was off Rodgers’ right hip with tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Allen Lazard off the right side of the offensive line. Rodgers shoveled Jones the ball as he came across his face after the snap and Jones followed Williams to the goal line — and then he just barreled right into the ‘13’ on Lazard’s back to get in.
“’Laz’ was just manhandling his guy so I just put my shoulder down and put it in his back and go in and I’m like, ‘You good?’” Jones laughed.
On the game-winning, 67-yard touchdown catch-and-run with 8 minutes, 2 seconds to go in the game, Jones was split wide on Rodgers’ left outside of Graham. He motioned into a stack look off Graham’s left hip and then stepped back to his 30. Rodgers slung it out as Graham blocked Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens and Bakhtiari cleared out linebacker Damien Wilson. Linsley got out to the 45-yard line to engage safety Daniel Sorensen, allowing Jones to outrun everyone to the end zone.
Jones also added a 50-yard reception on a slant-and-go — which would have been a 60-yard touchdown had his heel not clipped the boundary on his way to the end zone.
“It’s great scheme and great play-calling,” Graham said. “We have a lot of trust in every position we play here and Matt really doesn’t care. He pushes guys to go outside their box and to continue to get better on things like that, and obviously it showed tonight; the ability for him to be split out the numbers and doing double-moves is pretty special. We’re going to keep trying to find those matchups and keep trying to exploit those.”
The receiving numbers look nice, for sure, but when it was time to win the game the ball was back in Jones’ belly as a running back.
Backed up after a punt on their own 2-yard line with 5:04 to go, they Packers handed it to Jones up the middle (8 yards), off right guard (2 yards), off right tackle (14), around the right end (9), up the middle (5) and off right tackle (3).
“I loved it. It was closeout,” Rodgers said. “I love the whole drive. I think that was really special to finish that off.”
And then on third-and-5 at the 2-minute mark, the Packers emptied the backfield and matched Jones up on Chiefs linebacker Ben Niemann — and a quick throw later Jones got eight yards and the clinching first down.
“They were out of timeouts and that was time to win the game,” said Rodgers, who knelt out the clock from there.
Eight games into the season, giving the ball to Jones in crunch time is more than a trend or matchup-based play calls: It’s winning time.
“I mean, I think that’s what we want to be as an offense is a run-first offense,” Linsley said. “Obviously we have Aaron (Rodgers) and we’ve got to take advantage of that, but all in all we want to be able to run the ball whenever we can. That means a lot to us that they have that kind of faith in us
According to www.pro-football-reference.com, in the Packers’ seven wins they have given Jones the ball a total of 36 times in the fourth quarter and he has gained six first downs. He has rushed 31 times for 123 yards in the final quarter of Packers’ wins.
“It means a lot,” he said. “It says a lot about how much they trust me and how much I’ve grown. Look back two years and I wasn’t in on these situations, even backed up or in the red zone. I just think it’s part of my growth and just gotta continue.”