EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Even when Aaron Jones was the toast of Titletown earlier this season, the Packers’ locker room always spoke of the ground game’s success in a plural sense rather than singular.
On Sunday afternoon, Jamaal Williams showed why.
With Jones’ season now over due to a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve this past week, the Packers turned to their other second-year running back in Sunday’s matchup with the New York Jets.
Whether it was taking his first carry for 19 yards or stretching out for a 7-yard touchdown in the second quarter, Williams gave everyone a reminder of what he’s capable of in totaling 156 total yards in Green Bay’s 44-38 comeback victory.
Williams displayed bell-cow tendencies last season when the 6-foot, 213-pound running back finished as the Packers’ leading rusher as a rookie. More recently, however, Williams had been rotating behind Jones, resulting in only 20 combined touches from Weeks 10-14.
In two games back in the primary spot, Williams has rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries (5.6 yards per attempt) and added another 10 catches for 103 receiving yards.
“I just feel like my hard work and everything is paying off,” said Williams, who had 95 rushing yards and 61 receiving against the Jets. “Just coming out in the game showing the results of all my hard work and everything I’ve been going through. (I) want to come out here to show my team that I’m ready and working hard every time.”
Looking for more bodies in the backfield, the Packers claimed running back Kapri Bibbs off waivers this week from Washington and promoted Lavon Coleman from the practice squad Saturday. Yet, it was clear from the start Sunday those transactions were strictly precautionary measures.
Making his seventh start in 15 games, Williams had a hand in practically every Packers scoring drive, beginning with his 10-yard reception and 13-yard run up the middle to help propel the offense to its first touchdown-producing series midway through the second quarter.
With the offense facing third-and-4 a few plays later, Williams helped pick up a blitz in pass protection to give Rodgers just enough time to complete a 49-yard touchdown to Jake Kumerow.
From a pure athletic standpoint, perhaps Williams’ biggest play came with 1:39 left in the first half when he managed to stay on his feet to extend a stretch run for a 7-yard touchdown to cut the Jets’ lead to 21-14.
Williams finished the first half with 67 rushing yards on only eight attempts.
“I feel like we ran the football really well today,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “I don’t know what the numbers were at the end, but I felt like when we were calling runs, we were getting four or five yards and moving the line of scrimmage, and getting Jamaal the lanes he needed.”
The Packers went pass-heavy early in the second half after falling behind 35-20, a byproduct of a fumble on a kickoff return giving the Jets the ball at Green Bay’s 18-yard line.
MetLife Stadium hosted a Week 16 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the New York Jets.
Yet, when Green Bay needed Williams the most, the second-year back picked up 26 crucial yards off a screen pass on the Packers’ go-ahead touchdown drive in the final two minutes of regulation.
On the game-winning drive in overtime, the Packers rallied thanks in part to Williams (three carries for 21 yards), a couple defensive pass interference penalties, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who scrambled twice for 14 yards before completing a 16-yard touchdown pass to receiver Davante Adams to send Green Bay home with its first road win of the year.
Although opportunities aren’t always aplenty in Green Bay’s crowded backfield, Williams’ performance in Jones’ stead came as no surprise to the veteran players in the Packers’ locker room.
“He showed me the same thing he’s been showing me – he’s one of the toughest dudes I’ve ever met, let alone a football player,” Adams said. “He’s done a lot for us.
“I have a lot of respect for him. He knows if he was on any other team, he’d take 99 percent of the snaps. Being in there with Jones, they have to split time. But he’s a great complement to Aaron and our running game.”
The Packers swung the tide of Sunday’s game thanks in part to their success on the ground. With Rodgers picking up 32 yards and two touchdowns on five scrambles, the Packers finished with 20 carries for 164 yards (6.4 avg.) compared to the Jets’ 20 rushing attempts for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Williams will look to carry that momentum over into next Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field.
“I think it’s just getting in that comfort. I like getting reps and just seeing what the defense is about,” Williams said. “The more I see, the more I start to get more comfortable out there. … Really it’s just keep your eyes up. Man, I’m just grateful all this hard work paid off this week.”