GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ted Thompson wondered the same thing as everyone else who saw running back Aaron Jones walk to his locker wearing a paper card that read “REHAB CHAIN” on a string around his neck.
The Green Bay Packers rookie running back, who had just won Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a 20-yard touchdown run in overtime on his only carry of the day, explained to his general manager that it was like the University of Miami’s turnover chain.
But far less gaudy.
This one -- made by trainers Nate Weir and Bryan Engel, and not a South Florida jeweler -- signified the speedy recovery Jones had made after he sprained his MCL on Nov. 12. He missed only two games, and his return gave the Packers reason to think they might have a special backfield combination in Jones and fellow rookie Jamaal Williams, who posted his first 100-yard game with 113 on 21 carries and a touchdown against the Bucs.
Jones played two snaps. He didn’t touch the ball on the first one. He won the game on the second one.
“It says he’s ready to play,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of Jones. “I think the young man, you know, he’s comfortable. Jamaal has done a tremendous job. You never have enough good players, and it’ll be exciting to go forward with those two guys.”
It was the kind of rushing performance that allowed the Packers to win despite just an 84-yard passing performance from quarterback Brett Hundley. Hundley was more impressive with his feet -- rushing for 66 yards on seven carries, with some read-option plays sprinkled in -- on the way to the Packers’ season-high 199 yards on the ground.
“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,” Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said. “They haven’t changed one bit, they’re still grinding it out. For [Jones] to step in in that situation, to be ready, that’s a long time to stand on the sideline and not touch a ball at all and obviously it’s a crunch-time play. They’re both dynamic backs in two different ways, and it’s fun to watch the young guys play.”
Jones seemed just fine watching from the sideline -- and on the exercise bike he rode to stay loose -- as Williams trucked over would-be tacklers. And Williams had no issue giving way to Jones, after Williams had touched the ball on four of the first seven plays of overtime.
They’re a promising duo, not only because of their differing styles, but also because of their capabilities. They became friends even before the Packers drafted them (Williams in the fourth round, Jones in the fifth) because they share the same agent. They were roommates during training camp, and their lockers are right next to each other at Lambeau Field.
Since Jones left the Nov. 12 game at Chicago with his knee injury, Williams has been the workhorse. He has carried 80 times in the past four games.
“I was superexcited for him, his first 100-yard game,” said Jones, who remains the Packers’ leading rusher on the season, with 390 yards and four touchdowns. “I was excited for him, and he’s been having a great past couple weeks. I’m excited for him. He’s a great back, and he’s showing it.”
And Williams reciprocated the sentiment to Jones.
"I’m just happy for him to get the touchdown like that," Williams said. "As soon as I saw him get stuck in there, and then he went outside, I was like, 'Oh, he gone. He good. That’s a [touchdown] right there.' It’s just great to have somebody here with me."
It will be at least one more week before quarterback Aaron Rodgers can return from his broken collarbone, so McCarthy might have to ride Jones and Williams again next Sunday at Cleveland.
After that, Jones might be able to pass off the rehab chain to Rodgers, who returned to practice on Saturday but isn’t eligible to come off injured reserve until Week 15 at Carolina.
“Working hard in rehab, getting back on the field and making the most of it when you get the chance to get out there,” Jones said of the chain.