GREEN BAY – The Packers defense has received contributions across the board so far this season, and one player whose impact appears on the upswing is Datone Jones.
Last Sunday against San Diego, the third-year defensive lineman made two key plays in the fourth quarter to help the Packers protect their one-score lead.
First, with the Chargers at the Green Bay 40-yard line, Jones chased down QB Philip Rivers for a sack on third down, forcing San Diego to punt with just over six minutes left.
Then, on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line in the final 30 seconds, Jones cleanly beat right guard D.J. Fluker with his quickness off the line of scrimmage and stuffed running back Danny Woodhead for a 1-yard loss on a draw play.
"Our back was against the wall, and we needed someone to step up and make a big play," said Jones, whose daughter was born three days before the San Diego game.
Rookie cornerback Damarious Randall's pass breakup on fourth down followed, and the Packers had saved a 27-20 victory.
The earlier sack was Jones' first of the season, and he said teammate Julius Peppers had moved him to the outside of the formation before the snap to adjust the rush plan. Jones simply went with the veteran's instructions.
"I stood up, and I was out of my comfort zone," Jones said. "The guys on the right side of the line flushed him, and I just came on the inside and stayed high. Rivers scrambled, and I made the play on him."
The two big plays came a week after Jones blocked a field goal against the Rams, the third blocked kick of his career. In the last two games, Jones also batted down a Rivers pass on third down in the red zone, leading to a field goal, and he got a hit on Rams QB Nick Foles that contributed to rookie Quinten Rollins' pick-six.
His recent impact is reminiscent of the way he finished last season. In the final two regular-season games plus the first playoff game, Jones had two shared sacks, his first career interception (at Tampa Bay), a pressure that forced an intentional-grounding safety (vs. Detroit) plus a blocked field goal and fumble recovery (vs. Dallas in the playoffs).
That was the kind of production the Packers envisioned for Jones when they drafted him in the first round in 2013, but ankle injuries for much of his first two seasons hampered his progress.
The hope was that he'd be able to pick up this season right where he left off, but he was injured in training camp and had to serve a one-game suspension to start 2015.
Now, he seems to be coming into his own again as a rotational player on the defensive front, and more plays like Sunday could mean more snaps in the coming games.
"You just have to be ready at all times when your number is called," Jones said. "My job is to execute my job.
"I take it from John Wooden, being a UCLA kid, you have to be your best at all times."