GREEN BAY — The snaps and the carries weren’t exactly split down the middle.
Jamaal Williams did most of the work, and Aaron Jones got most of the glory.
But what the two Green Bay Packers rookie running backs did in Sunday’s 26-20 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field sure was an eye-catching coming attraction of the kind of tandem they might be.
“Those guys are doing some exceptional things being as young as they are,” veteran right guard Jahri Evans said after Williams ran 21 times for 113 yards and a touchdown and Jones ended the game with a 20-yard touchdown sprint — his only carry. “Those two young guys are special. And we’re seeing it early.”
After injuries spun a revolving door at running back, Sunday marked the first time the duo was high enough on the depth chart together and healthy enough to work together.
With original starter Ty Montgomery (wrist/ribs) on season-ending injured reserve, Jones, who had become the team’s lead back before he suffered a knee injury Nov. 12 at Chicago, was active after missing the past two games. Meanwhile Williams, who emerged as the featured back after Jones’ injury, was again the workhorse. Over the past four games, Williams has carried 80 times for 303 yards and two touchdowns.
“That’s big. Those young guys are doing a great job handling everything — from the playbook, to what they’re doing on the field, to handling the success they’re having,” veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson said. “They haven’t changed on bit. They’re still grinding it out.
“They’re both dynamic backs in two different ways, and it’s fun to watch the young guys play.”
With quarterback Aaron Rodgers out at least another week — and perhaps longer — as he comes back from a fractured right collarbone Oct. 15, the emergence of Williams and Jones could give the offense a different element when the quarterback returns. The earliest Rodgers could play would be Dec. 17 at Carolina — giving him a chance to participate in the final three games after leading the team to a 4-1 start before his injury.
In Rodgers’ five full games, the Packers ran for more than 100 yards as a team only once – 160 yards in an Oct. 8 win at Dallas, with Rodgers accounting for 32 of those yards. Sunday, the Packers rode Williams and backup quarterback Brett Hundley (seven rushes for 66 yards, including two read-option runs for a combined 32 yards) to a season-high 199 yards on the ground.
“Fantastic. It’s big development,” veteran left tackle David Bakhtiari said of the run game. “Down the stretch, it further makes us that much more dynamic.”
Williams and Jones certainly were dynamic Sunday. While Williams did break a season-long 25-yard run, an impressive 12 of his 21 attempts gained at least 5 yards. On the game-winning eight-play, 72-yard touchdown drive in overtime, he got the ball on four of the first seven plays, moving the pile three times for 15 yards before a 12-yard catch-and-run. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 61 of Williams’ 113 yards came after contact.
“(Establishing the run) helps the offense a lot. It helps take pressure off Brett and lets him know he doesn’t have to do it all by himself,” Williams said. “Running the ball, as long as we get four, five (yards) each time, we’re in good shape.”
After the 12-yard catch, Williams came to the sideline in favor of Jones, who’d played only one snap at that point and spent most of the game on a stationary bike on the sideline.
Jones promptly took a handoff from Hundley, burst off tackle behind Bakhtiari and ran untouched to the end zone, diving across the goal line for effect.
“I knew my number was going to be eventually called. I just had to make the most of it,” said Jones, who had 100-yard games against Dallas and New Orleans before his injury. “(Jamaal) just went out for a break, and it just went well for me.
“We’ve been friends before we got here. We have the same agent (Leigh Steinberg) and everything. So we want to see each other succeed. If one of us is doing it, it feels like both of us are doing it. I’m glad that both of us have success.”
And so are the Packers.