Aaron Jones is refreshed and ready to roll

Packers’ top running back finished the regular season with some big games

RB Aaron Jones
RB Aaron Jones

GREEN BAY – Aaron Jones summed up the value of the playoff bye in three words.

"You get fresh," the Packers' star running back said Thursday.

Jones hasn't been on the injury report or anything, but avoiding a couple dozen hits he was sure to take in a wild-card opener was welcome. Running back is a brutal position, so any break from the punishment – from defenders, from winter turf, from whatever – is savored.

Strangely, though, Jones felt his body didn't actually "need" the bye heading into Sunday's NFC Divisional matchup vs. Seattle.

Even though he had tied his career high with 23 carries in Week 16 at Minnesota, and then topped it with 25 in Week 17 at Detroit (plus two receptions each game, for a total of 52 touches and 303 yards from scrimmage over two contests), Jones wasn't begging for the break.

"It was weird because I wasn't really sore after that (Detroit) game," he said. "I took some shots and I was expecting to be sore, because it was one of the more physical games I've played in this past year, and I was good."

If there's anything that serves as a subtle feather in Jones' cap following a monster regular season, it's that. He played all 16 games, handled the steadily increasing workload was thrown at him, and is absolutely primed for whatever the playoffs bring.

Credit a meticulous routine that featured multiple weekly visits to both a "body guy" as well as a chiropractor, but also credit Jones' quiet resolve. After missing a total of eight games over his first two NFL seasons, mostly due to knee injuries, Jones was determined heading into Year 3 to suit up for every game and line up for every play he was asked to, and he achieved it.

He's also not done.

"I take a lot of pride in it," Jones said. "Availability is one of the biggest things here and in the league. If you're not available, then you're no good pretty much. I made it one of my goals to play 16 games – well, 16-plus, I want to keep going and stay healthy.

"That was one of my goals, to put all the doubters and the naysayers, and everybody saying he's injury prone and he's this and he's that, to bed. It's a good feeling."

So was being at his best when the Packers needed him most down the stretch. He posted a career-high 154 rushing yards in the NFC North-clinching win over the Vikings and then made it back-to-back 100-yard outings for the first time in the comeback triumph over the Lions. He added the key 31-yard reception on a screen pass in Detroit to set up the game-winning field goal, too.

The strong finish put Jones over 1,500 yards from scrimmage on the year (1,084 rushing, 474 receiving) to go with his 19 total touchdowns, one shy of the franchise single-season record. He heads into the postseason having topped 100 rushing yards and 140 total yards in three of the last four games.

It's a lot to live up to as he makes his NFL playoff debut Sunday, and while he knows how much the Packers' offense counts on him, Jones takes it all in stride.

"I don't put any expectations on myself," he said. "Just go out there, perform, do my job, do my 1/11th as we say, play at a high level and give my team a chance to win the game.

"It's any football player's dream of playing in the playoffs and moving on and trying to play in the big game. Not to say it's just another game, but there's no added pressure. You don't have to go out there and try to make a play. Just let it come to you like you've been doing all season, play your game, and you'll be good."

Jones toiled through the regular-season finale without his backfield partner, Jamaal Williams, who was out with a shoulder injury. Williams has since returned to practice, and Head Coach Matt LaFleur called it "absolutely huge" to have the tandem together again for the postseason.

LaFleur indicated Williams will get his share of snaps, and that's fine with Jones as well. They'll both have a set of fresh legs, in a sense, and Jones noted everybody was "flying around" the practice field on Thursday as the Packers practiced in pads for the first time since prepping for the Vikings game.

"Everybody's locked in, extra," Jones said. "Every play matters, every inch matters. It's the playoffs so you win or go home. Everything counts."

Including rest for the offense's most important playmaker, whether he felt he needed it or not.

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