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Game notes: Aaron Jones carries the load for Packers' banged-up offense

Bo Melton chips in, Tucker Kraft keeps generating explosive gains

Green Bay Packers RB Aaron Jones
Green Bay Packers RB Aaron Jones

CHARLOTTE – A Packers offense riddled with injuries at every skill position turned to a familiar face during Sunday's must-win encounter with the Carolina Panthers.

And Aaron Jones did not disappoint.

Green Bay's seventh-year running back put his own recent injuries in the past during his finest performance of the season, 21 carries for 127 yards, to catapult the Packers to a 33-30 win over the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.

It was a special day for Jones, who got off to a terrific start in the opener against Chicago before sustaining a hamstring injury at the tail end of a second-half touchdown catch-and-run that hampered him during the first half of the year.

Just when it looked like injuries were behind him, the 29-year-old running back sprained his MCL on Thanksgiving against Detroit and missed three more games. Sunday was about gaining a victory more than personal validation, but Jones admits it was fun to remind the masses what he's still capable of.

"I think I showed that Week 1 and I just haven't been healthy to get out there and show it again," Jones said. "Finally getting back healthy, I feel like I showed people a lot of the doubters, people who may be saying, 'Oh, he's getting too old, blah, blah, blah.' It felt good."

While Jones missed three games earlier this month with a sprained MCL, Green Bay needed to lean on him due to mounting injuries on offense. That included Jones' running mate AJ Dillon, whose broken thumb limited him to just seven touches Sunday.

Like last week against Tampa Bay, Jones came out of the gates hot. He recorded 82 of his 121 rushing yards on the first two series in the first quarter. He ran for 38 yards and caught an 8-yard pass on Green Bay's first possession, a seven-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a Dillon 1-yard touchdown run.

Jones then busted a season-long 39-yard run on his first carry up the right sideline to start the next series. Jones thought he might have a chance at a touchdown before seeing Panthers safety Xavier Woods come into his vision.

The Packers used the explosive gain to orchestrate another TD-producing drive, with quarterback Jordan Love sneaking in for a 1-yard score on the first play of the second quarter.

Jones and the offensive line continued to wear down the Panthers' front in the third quarter, with the 5-foot-9, 208-pound running back gaining 24 yards on four straight carries to set up Love's 5-yard touchdown pass to receiver Romeo Doubs on the first play of the fourth quarter.

"That's how he's been. He's been that dude," Doubs said. "It's easy outside looking in to speak on what he's done. He's had some trials and tribulations throughout the course of this year, but I'm not surprised that he played the way he did because that's how he always plays."

As a team, the Packers finished with 162 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries (4.8 yards per carry). Individually, however, Sunday marked the first time a Packers player has eclipsed 100 rushing yards since Jones rushed for 111 on 14 carries in a 41-17 win over Minnesota on Jan. 1, 2023.

Fittingly, the Packers will travel to face the Vikings next Sunday in a pivotal game for the NFC North rivals. As Jones gets closer to full health, the former Pro Bowler hopes to lead a Packers playoff push.

"I wouldn't say I was fully 100% but who's ever 100% in December?" Jones said. "But definitely getting back to myself and feeling better each week as the weeks go on. Hopefully next week I come out there and I am 100%."

Bo's big opportunity: With Jayden Reed out with toe and chest injuries, Bo Melton was determined to help Green Bay overcome the loss of its dynamic rookie playmaker.

Elevated from the practice squad, Melton did a little of everything on the Packers' first two scoring drives en route to finishing with five touches for 51 yards (four catches for 44 yards, one carry for seven).

The opportunity meant everything to Melton considering Sunday was almost one year to the day that the 5-foot-11, 189-pound wideout first signed with Green Bay from Seattle's practice squad.

"It's been a roller coaster, for sure," Melton said. "Coming into the league, dealing with a little injury here and there, setting me back, but I didn't stop believing in myself. I stayed in the books, stayed in God. I came out here and did what I could do for this team. Just keep showing out as I can."

Check out photos from the Week 16 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023.