GREEN BAY – The Packers' could do no wrong during the early going of Saturday night's 24-16 win over Carolina and Aaron Jones was a big reason why.
The fourth-year running back rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers with a bulk of that production coming in the first half, breaking a 46-yard run on Green Bay's first drive to get the offense going.
The big run ushered in a seven-play, 81-yard series that ended with quarterback Aaron Rodgers hitting Robert Tonyan for a 1-yard touchdown, marking the 11th time in 14 games the Packers have scored on their opening possession.
"We were running an inside zone and I just pressed it really well," said Jones of the 46-yard run. "I saw the linebackers commit and … I think Billy (Turner) had the guy sealed. Once I pressed it, usually that play's designed to roll back, but I knew if I slipped out on the front side, that there would be nobody right there."
Jones also bulldozed his way to 31 yards on five straight carries in the second quarter, eventually leading to an 8-yard TD run that allowed the Packers to take a 21-3 lead into halftime.
The score pushed Jones' first-half rushing tally to 114 yards, giving him the second-most by a Packers running back in the first two quarters of a game since 2004. Only Ty Montgomery had more (123 rushing yards at Chicago on Dec. 18, 2016).
With rookie AJ Dillon back from the reserve/COVID-19 list, Head Coach Matt LaFleur went back to using Jones and fellow running back Jamaal Williams in tandem packages again.
At least, that was until Williams exited in the second quarter with a quad injury and didn't return. Instead, Jones handled almost all of the backfield work besides an 18-yard carry by Dillon near the end of the first half.
"Whenever things like that happen, we know we have to step up and take up for our brother and make up," Jones said. "We missed having Jamaal out there, but we know we'll have him back soon. He missed being out there. He was still on the sideline with me and AJ, staying in our ear and making sure we stay positive, being a great leader."
The offense did fall into some second-half doldrums, going three-and-out twice in the third quarter before rallying in the fourth to put away the Panthers.
Despite missing two games with a calf injury, Jones needs just 32 yards over the next two weeks to become the first Packers running back to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons since Eddie Lacy (2013-14).
A strong start to the month of December has helped put Jones in that position, with 344 yards and two touchdowns on 50 carries (6.9 yards per attempt) over the past 14 days.
"I'm a Sagittarius," said Jones when asked about his success this month. "December football is definitely, it's when it's time to turn it up."
Lambeau Field hosted a Week 15 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.
Clutch Crosby: One week after kicking his longest field goal of the season, Mason Crosby was again called upon for another attempt from more than 50 yards away at a critical point of the game.
And like he did with his 57-yard effort in Detroit, Crosby again delivered with a 51-yard make against Carolina to give Green Bay a two-score advantage, 24-13, with 3:39 left in the game.
The 36-year-old kicker also stayed perfect on field-goal attempts (16-for-16) this year, while improving to 4-of-4 on kicks from 50 or more yards out.
"I just feel really confident with the work I'm putting in during the week and my balance and my execution on kicks during the game," said Crosby, who's now made 18 consecutive field goals dating back to the 2019 season.
"Just trying not to make anything too complicated. I just feel like my rhythm and my timing is on. I trust the operation and the protection and those guys in front of me, and I'm just able to execute at a high level."
Touchdown Tonyan: While Davante Adams' streak of eight consecutive games with at least one touchdown reception drew to a close, Tonyan became the first NFL tight end to catch a TD in five straight games since 2014 (Julius Thomas).
Tonyan's 1-yard TD in the first quarter brought his season total to 10 receiving TDs, tied with Keith Jackson (1996) for the second most in a season by a Green Bay tight end behind only Paul Coffman (11 in 1983).
More on Dillon: Watching from the sideline, Jones thought Dillon's first carry in nearly two months had a chance to become his first NFL touchdown when the rookie running back broke into the second level.
The second-round pick nearly did it, too, before Panthers' defensive rookie of the year candidate Jeremy Chinn tripped Dillon up to hold him to an 18-yard gain on second-and-6.
"He did a great job with that carry. He almost broke it," Jones said. "I thought he was going to take it to the house. I was hoping he did, his first carry after all he's been through. That would have been pretty cool to see. I'm so proud of him. I'm happy for him. There's more to come."
It was Dillon's first carry since he rushed five times for 21 yards against Minnesota on Nov. 1.