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Adversity behind him, AJ Dillon makes statement performance in the snow

Packers rookie powers offense with 124 rushing yards and two TDs

Packers RB AJ Dillon dives into the end zone for his second TD in a breakout performance against the Tennessee Titans.
Packers RB AJ Dillon dives into the end zone for his second TD in a breakout performance against the Tennessee Titans.

GREEN BAY – AJ Dillon had a feeling it was going to a good day from the moment the Packers rookie running back looked out his balcony and saw snow falling on Sunday afternoon.

"I live right next to (linebacker) Kamal Martin. I called him up and I was like, 'Hey man, do you see this?'" Dillon said. "I'm like, 'Man, this is gonna be a fun day.'"

And boy, was it ever.

Following a week in which all eyes were on Tennessee's All-Pro running back Derrick Henry, it was Dillon who stole the show at Lambeau Field in running for a career-high 124 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-14 drubbing of the Tennessee Titans.

As the third-string back behind the Packers' one-two combination of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, Dillon had seen only 24 carries for 115 yards through the first nine games of his NFL career.

With Williams' quadricep injury catapulting Dillon into the No. 2 role against the Titans, the 6-foot, 247-pound running back assumed the controls of the backfield early in the second quarter after Jones briefly exited with an injury – and it was a perfect fit.

"I feel like this entire time has been a blessing in disguise," Dillon said. "Obviously I've had some time to be behind guys like Jamaal and Aaron. I've taken so much from them and the coaches and everything and my time, being able to watch them, I feel like has really helped me with my development."

The kid who grew up playing in the Connecticut snow was in his element Sunday, with Head Coach Matt LaFleur working the rookie in the game during the Packers' second possession. While his first two carries only went for two yards, Dillon began breaking 5-, 6- and 9-yard carries to the second level.

When Jones was getting looked at on the sideline in the second quarter, Dillon busted a 14-yard gain up the middle and it was all north-and-south from there. He finished the first half with a game-high 51 yards on 10 carries.

Jones returned and added a 59-yard run of his own to start the second half, while Dillon put the game out of reach with his first NFL touchdown run in which he turned a fourth-and-1 draw out of the shotgun into a 30-yard score.

"The touchdown on the fourth down was a really big play," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "We checked out of a pass into a run. Felt really good about the right side of the line – obviously, running behind Big Dog (Marcedes Lewis) is always a good thing – and then Allen (Lazard) had a nice block one-on-one on the corner and he ran through an arm tackle and ran through another tackle. There's a lot of confidence plays for him. I'm really happy for him."

Dillon added one more TD for good measure in the fourth quarter, plowing his way in from seven yards out. He came up a little short on his first attempt at a Lambeau Leap, but Lazard was right there to give the rookie an extra nudge.

Dillon's two-TD night was a much-needed boost during what's been a long rookie season. He missed five games due to COVID-19, and without going into too many details, Dillon admitted it was a "hard process" battling the virus and working his way back into football shape.

To make matters worse, Dillon felt like he'd just had his best game of the season against Minnesota on Nov. 1 before receiving his diagnosis.

"That was a major setback for me personally," Dillon said. "Obviously, I was down for a little bit but I had so much support, from my teammates, my coaches, the staff here, the community out here, my family and friends back home. I feel like everybody keeping me in great spirits kind of brought me back to it."

Dillon put the time away from the field to good use, paying close attention to how Jones and Williams handled their daily responsibilities. When his time came on Sunday, Dillon showed a glimpse of what he could bring to the offense with his combination of power, speed and tackle-breaking ability.

Lambeau Field hosted a Week 16 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020.

After all the hype surrounding Henry – and the physical comparisons between the two – Dillon was proud to be part of a Packers' backfield that doubled Tennessee on the ground during Sunday's snow-covered victory, 218 yards to 101.

"That's somebody I've studied so much of his film," said Dillon of Henry. "Being the rushing king two years in a row, obviously big respect to him and just to kind of be in the same talking point, it's a huge honor. I'm just looking to get better, but it was obviously a really fun experience for me."

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