DETROIT – As the 2019 regular season and the 2019 calendar year come to a close, let’s take a look back at how the Green Bay Packers went from 6-9-1 last season to 12-3 and rolling into the playoffs this season.
No. 4: Jones Starts Record Run
Aaron Jones was expected to be a dynamic threat in Matt LaFleur’s new offense. But in the first four games, Jones was averaging just 3.48 yards per carry and had been held to less than 40 rushing yards in three games. What was wrong?
Nothing, as it turns out.
In a Week 5 showdown at Dallas in which almost all the experts (this one included) expected a Packers loss, Jones carried 19 times for 107 yards and four touchdowns and added seven receptions for 75 yards in a 34-24 victory. It marked only the sixth time since 1950 that a Packers running back rushed for four touchdowns. Hall of Famer Jim Taylor did it three times, Terdell Middleton did it against Seattle in 1978 and Dorsey Levens did it in the finale of 1999 season against Arizona. Taylor and Jones are the only Packers backs to do it on the road.
Just like that, Jones was off and running on an historic season.
Entering Sunday’s finale at Detroit, Jones leads the NFL with 16 rushing touchdowns and 19 total touchdowns. He needs one touchdown to tie Ahman Green’s franchise record of 20 total touchdowns and 16 yards to post his first career 1,000-yard season. Over the past decade, only three players have scored 20 touchdowns.
Typical of Jones, the individual accomplishments are taking a back seat to the team.
“Twenty would be nice to get to, but I'm just trying to play and see where I’m at at the end of the year,” Jones said on Friday. “The most important thing is this game. Once the end of the season is over, we can assess how many touchdowns I have then. The most important thing is getting this win and getting that bye.”
Against Dallas, he stiff-armed safety Xavier Woods to the turf for his first touchdown, accelerated around the corner and waved good-bye to defensive back Byron Jones for his third touchdown and ran over safety Jeff Heath for the fourth touchdown. By our count, he forced 14 missed tackles; running backs coach Ben Sirmans counted a dozen. He also saved the day on a couple of errant shotgun snaps from backup center Lucas Patrick.
“He’s a very instinctive runner, and I think his style is so deceiving because he can make such fluid cuts,” Sirmans said after the game. “Sometimes, you’ll see backs breaking down. When they start breaking down, it gives the defender an opportunity to reset themselves and make the tackle, but he’s just so smooth with his movement that he can get guys off-balance. When a guy’s off-balance and he can’t run their feet to go make the tackle, that’s when he can avoid him. He’s not a real shifty, hip guy, like a Barry Sanders. He does everything through quick, subtle movements.”
That shows up in Jones’ elusiveness in the open field. Of 27 running backs with at least 150 carries, Jones ranks sixth with 3.23 yards after contact per carry. That’s better than Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook and Saquon Barkley, among others. He padded that number with 97 yards after contact against Minnesota, a performance highlighted by a 56-yard touchdown that clinched the NFC North title.
With 1,415 yards from scrimmage, Jones is No. 10 in the NFL. With 110 yards from scrimmage, he’ll zoom all the way to No. 10 on the Packers’ all-time list.
“It’s bigger than me. It’s a team sport,” Jones said. “I can accomplish something, but I want our team to accomplish something even more special. So, like I said, getting that first-round bye is the most important thing. No career stats, no career goals. I’m just here to help my team.”