GREEN BAY – Jamaal Williams knew it was over the moment Aaron Jones bounced off the line and started turning outside.
Taking a short breather after a 12-yard catch, the Packers running back watched from the sideline while his fellow rookie and offseason roommate pin-balled off a barricade of Tampa Bay Buccaneers and broke free off the left side of Green Bay’s offensive line.
Jones, in his first game action in two weeks and on his only carry Sunday, sprinted into the open field and leaped into the end zone past a defender for a 20-yard touchdown, propelling the Packers to a 26-20 overtime victory in front of 77,684 at Lambeau Field.
With Jones in his first game back from a sprained MCL, Williams handled nearly all of the workload against Tampa Bay, racking up 113 rushing yards and a touchdown on 21 carries for his first NFL 100-yard rushing performance.
When Williams needed a break, however, it was Jones who sent the Packers back to .500 on the season.
“We’ve been together since we started the combine to being together all the time,” Williams said. “We have the same agent and everything. Roommates, when we first got here, too. It’s nothing new to us. We’ve been together for a while. I’m just happy for him to get the touchdown like that. As soon as I saw him get stuck in there and then he went outside, I was like, ‘Oh, he gone. He good.’”
Afterward, Jones was wearing a sign over his neck reading “Rehab chain.” The rookie running back said it had to do with him working hard to rehab to get back on the field after injuring his knee last month against Chicago.
Prior to the injury, the rookie fifth-round pick out of UTEP had earned two NFC Offensive Rookie of the Week honors in a three-week span after 100-yard performances against Dallas and New Orleans.
Understanding his reps likely would be limited in his first game back, Jones rode the stationary bike on the sideline to stay warm, while Williams pushed through defender after defender to keep the Packers’ offense moving.
The workload didn’t slow Williams down in overtime. After Hundley picked up 18 yards on a read-option run, Williams followed fullback Aaron Ripkowski on a hard-fought 9-yard gain to push Green Bay into field-goal range.
On the next play, Williams picked up another 12 yards on a short pass from Hundley. It was then Williams took a moment to reset. With the ball at the Tampa Bay 20, Jones took it from there – extending what appeared to be a contained run to victory.
“Most of the time, people just run behind their offensive linemen and push for what they can,” Jones said. “But I saw how they all crashed in. I noticed the open lane, and I just took it.”
Williams and Jones likely will be the combination the Packers run with for the remainder of the season, with Ty Montgomery (wrist) being placed on injured reserve Friday.
Together, with Hundley’s 66 rushing yards, the duo lifted the Packers to their biggest rushing day of the season – 29 carries for 199 yards and two touchdowns (6.9 avg).
It was important production on a day the Packers totaled only 84 passing yards and weathered three consecutive three-and-outs to start the second half.
“Those guys are doing some exceptional things being as young as they are,” right guard Jahri Evans said. “It all starts with their vision. They’re seeing things well. We’re able to get a hat on a hat and they’re running hard. They’re not going down on first contact. Those two young guys are special and we’re seeing it early.”
The Packers turned back to Williams in the fourth quarter, keying a 10-play, 70-yard series that produced a 22-yard Mason Crosby field goal to tie the game at 20 and eventually force overtime.
Almost all of Williams’ snaps this season have come over the last four games. Prior to that, the fourth-round pick out of BYU had mostly been utilized on special teams with Montgomery and Jones guiding the backfield.
While Williams got the long run he’s been looking to break with a season-long 25-yard gain in the second quarter, the 6-foot, 213-pound running back takes pride in operating between the tackles and pushing the pile.
“I love getting those hard-yard runs,” Williams said. “Those are the ones I like the most because you see the face on the defense. They don’t want to deal with it. They want you to get hit and fall down.
“As long as we’re getting first downs and getting close to first downs and keeping the ball moving, then we’re good.”
After winning the OT coin toss, the Packers let Williams and Jones take things from there, riding the two rookie backs to 47 yards on the game-winning eight-play, 72-yard series.
“Situational ball is huge,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “We had it when we needed it most when it came down to situations. … That’s big-time.
“That’s definitely a character win when you’re able to go into OT and slowly chip away running the ball down their throats, so to speak, and cap off an explosive gain to win.”
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