GREEN BAY — Jamaal Williams didn’t just look good when pressed into duty during Sunday’s crucial victory over the Chicago Bears.
The Green Bay Packers rookie running back — and, thanks to the team’s seemingly endless bad luck with injuries, apparently their latest starting running back — also sounded good.
“(He’s a) physical runner,” veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson marveled following the 23-16 win over the Bears. “You could hear the pads popping out there when he was getting low.”
The Packers will need that from Williams — at one point the forgotten man following fellow rookie Aaron Jones’ sudden emergence — going forward with Jones out multiple weeks with a knee injury suffered against Chicago. While Jones, who was hurt on the Packers’ opening drive, avoided a season-ending injury, he is expected to miss 3-6 weeks with a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee, a source told ESPN on Monday.
The Packers also lost former starting running back Ty Montgomery to a rib injury during the game, leaving them with Williams as their only active halfback on the 46-man game-day roster. The third halfback in the Packers’ rookie class, seventh-round pick Devante Mays, was inactive.
“I thought Jamaal Williams played excellent. He clearly played his best football as a Green Bay Packer, the way he came in there and ran the football at the time you needed to run it,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said during his day-after-the-game news briefing Monday afternoon, adding that Williams received a game ball for his performance — on special teams, not on offense.
“You could see in training camp he was clearly ahead of the two rookies. (But) I think when the season started, he was trying to do things right and was thinking too much. And frankly the opportunity being taken away from him with Aaron stepping in there, his hunger never changed.
“He’s really developed into a heck of a special teams player, particularly on kickoff coverage, just the way he goes down there. And then when he got in there (on offense), he cut it loose. He took a big step, and I would say the difference was confidence.”
Jones, a fifth-round pick from Texas-El Paso, emerged after Montgomery (ribs) and Williams (knee) went down with injuries in the first Packers-Bears meeting, Sept. 28 at Lambeau Field. Jones took the opportunity and ran with it, leading the Packers in rushing on the season with 370 yards on 70 carries (a 5.3-yard average), including a pair of 100-yard games. McCarthy would only say Jones has a “multiple-week” injury.
When Jones went out Sunday, Montgomery reclaimed the role of lead back, only to re-injure his ribs after carrying six times for 54 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown run. It’s unclear whether Montgomery, the team’s second-leading rusher with 273 yards on 71 carries (a 3.8-yard average), could be ready for Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens at Lambeau Field. When he fractured multiple ribs on Sept. 28, Montgomery missed the following week’s game at Dallas on Oct. 8 but returned to the lineup Oct. 15 at Minnesota.
“They’re still working through exams and so forth,” McCarthy said. “I would think he would have a chance this week.”
If neither Jones nor Montgomery can go, Williams, who had carried just 11 times for 34 yards entering the week, will get the opportunity to build on his performance in Chicago, where he ran 20 times for 67 yards.
“You just wait for your opportunities. You really just have to wait for them, keep your head up, keep your momentum up and be about the team,” Williams said, adding that teammates Randall Cobb and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix were particularly supportive when he was out of the running back rotation. “I’ve been on the field on special teams this whole time — all the special teams. I ain’t doing nothing except wishing the team to win.
“You’ve got to keep that motivation up. You’ve got to remember that your time is going to come. When it comes, you have to make the best of those opportunities. That’s any type of football — college, NFL. You’ve got to wait for your opportunities and make the best of them. I feel like I did a great job (against the Bears), but I have a lot to work on to become a better running back.”
Williams also appears to be the type of back who gets stronger as he gets more carries. With the Packers looking to close out the game, he ran over multiple Bears defenders with his physical, bruising style, and five of his final eight carries went for 4 yards or more, including three 6-yard runs.
“It speaks a lot to him and his preparation. He was able to come in and knew what to do. Mentally he was ready and physically he was ready,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “That’s something that you want to see. Moving forward, we’ll see what’s up with our backs. Terrible to see two of them go down. He’s got the film that he can lower his pad level and get after some defensive players, so that’s going to be nice.”
And when McCarthy decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 near midfield at the end of the third quarter, Williams bulldozed for 4 yards and was a shoestring tackle away from taking it the distance.
“I feel like that’s my type of running style — downhill,” Williams said. “I feel like I can be versatile, too — agile and do all the other things I need to do to get outside the tackles and try to take it for a touchdown. (But) these type of games, you’ve got to pound it, get those first downs and really just have that pride with your linemen that you can get the first downs, no matter what.
“I really love running through (defenders) and letting them know, ‘That’s what you’re going to get from me every time I get the ball. I’m coming at you. No soft runs.’ That’s what I need defenders to know. That’s the only way I know how to run – running hard, running with passion and running with a mean streak.”
McCarthy didn’t seem to have any concerns about quarterback Brett Hundley’s hamstring, which tightened up on him Sunday. Hundley stayed in the game and didn’t miss any time. … Punter Justin Vogel, who dropped the snap on what would have been a 35-yard Mason Crosby field goal with 1:03 left in the game Sunday, took the blame for Crosby missing. “I don’t think our snap location was perfect, but I think I should make that catch 100 percent of the time,” Vogel said. … Outside linebacker Nick Perry, who registered a career-best three sacks against the Bears, believes the defense has much more to give. “It’s one game,” Perry said. “We want to be the best defense out there (at) all times. I think we have a good thing going and we’re going to continue to build off that.” … McCarthy said he didn’t get a good look at the replay before Bears coach John Fox challenged what Fox thought was a touchdown but turned out to be a Bears fumble. “Thankfully it worked out in our favor,” McCarthy said. “I thought it was definitely officiated correctly — and I’m not saying that just because of the outcome.”