GREEN BAY – Two first downs and this game is over.
With the Packers clinging to a 21-16 lead over Minnesota during Sunday’s home opener at Lambeau Field, Aaron Rodgers and David Bakhtiari relayed that straightforward message to the other nine players in the huddle as Green Bay’s offense retook the field with 3 minutes, 14 seconds remaining.
Running back Aaron Jones, in midst of his busiest day in a Packers uniform, heard his QB and left tackle loud and clear.
“Aaron came in the huddle and said it and ‘Bak’ came in the huddle and said it,” Jones said. “And all the guys in the huddle just told me to protect the ball and just stay in bounds.”
The third-year running back broke a 13-yard run on second-and-7 and then brought the clock down to the two-minute warning with a 4-yard pickup on the next play.
And when the Vikings crept up to stop the run after the break, Rodgers rolled out and connected with receiver Davante Adams for seven yards on second-and-6, gaining the necessary first down to practically close out the victory.
The successful four-minute offense was a reflection of Jones’ effectiveness throughout Sunday’s game against the Vikings.
The 5-foot-9, 208-pound back rushed a career-high 23 times for 116 yards and a touchdown despite not having a carry of more than 15 yards. He also was the Packers’ second-leading catcher with four receptions for 34 yards.
“We were efficient. Our goal is four yards per carry and I think we achieved that,” Jones said. “It’s just a testament to how hard those guys worked (up front) and a testament to Minnesota’s defense. They’re always in the right spot. You get to the second level, you make the linebacker miss and boom there’s a safety.”
The Packers were vocal this offseason about how they planned to incorporate both Jones and Jamaal Williams into the offense, an emphasis that was evident on the opening series when Head Coach Matt LaFleur played both running backs at the same time.
With Williams in the backfield, Rodgers flicked what was ruled a 6-yard rush for Jones, who was motioning from out wide. After a pitch to Jones for 15 on the next play, Green Bay then used the same jet-sweep look to set up a 15-yard screen pass to Williams for a touchdown.
“It’s something new,” said Williams, who had 41 yards from scrimmage and the TD on 13 touches. “They ain’t used to seeing two backs in there, me and Aaron at the same time. I felt like that right there helps out the offense a little bit more because we can put one in motion, we can have one running the ball (or) have one out on a route and one blocking. It’s just pick your poison, really.”
After a Kenny Clark strip-sack of Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins gave Green Bay the ball at the Minnesota 33, Jones picked up 18 yards on three consecutive carries and pushed the Packers’ lead to 21-0 with a 2-yard run out of the pistol.
Although the Packers’ offense sputtered after the score, Jones continued to pile up carries and yards. Prior to Sunday, the most Jones had ever carried the ball was 19 times during his rookie 2017 season against Dallas. He had 14 carries by halftime.
Lambeau Field hosted a Week 2 game between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings.
“I liked it. I told some of the guys this is my new career high,” said Jones of his 23 total carries. “It just developed during the course of the game. I looked up and I was like, man, I already have 15 carries. I’m just like, ‘I’m liking this.’”
The Packers historically have had their work cut out for them trying to rush against Mike Zimmer’s defense but still managed a respectable 144 rushing yards on 33 attempts.
Together, Jones and Williams combined for 191 of the Packers’ 335 total yards. While Williams said Green Bay still has “more to do” to get everything in sync offensively, the ground game has proven it’s more than capable of shouldering the load.
The potential explosiveness of this offense excites Jones, though. A week after Rodgers found Marquez Valdes-Scantling for 47 yards in Chicago, he hit Adams for 39 yards to open Sunday’s game against the Vikings.
If the running backs keep doing their job, Jones is confident the offense can be explosive with Rodgers and his array of deep threats.
“It’s going to be tough for defenses,” Jone said. “It’s mirrored; the run looks like the pass. So you won’t know. If you get those ’backers to come up, you’re good in play-action.”