GREEN BAY, Wis. -- He had not touched a football in 25 days -- not in an actual game, anyway.
So when Aaron Jones took the field late in the first quarter on Sunday at the Washington Redskins and did what Aaron Jones does -- sliced through the smallest of holes and turned a 2-yard gain into 10 -- it was no wonder the Green Bay Packers’ second-year running back jumped up and emphatically gave the first-down signal.
"There was a lot pent up," Jones said of both the 10-yard run and his reaction. "I was sitting at home for two weeks just waiting for a carry. My first one, for it to be like -- of course, I wanted to take it to the house -- but for it to be a big run, I was pumped and I just wanted to bring a spark."
On the very next play, Jones cut a run inside for an 8-yard gain.
Two plays, two carries, 18 yards.
What’s not to like about that?
Yet Jones touched the ball only five more times in the 31-17 loss at FedEx Field. He caught one pass for 5 yards, and his six carries totaled 42 yards for an impressive 7.0 yards per rush.
To be sure, just about everyone who ran the ball against the Redskins had some success. Jamaal Williams averaged 5.8 yards on five carries and Ty Montgomery 4.0 yards on four carries. Even gimpy Aaron Rodgers ran twice for 13 yards.
Whether anyone liked it or not, Packers coach Mike McCarthy wasn’t about to run Jones into the ground in his first game since the Aug. 30 preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs, after he served a two-week suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy following his marijuana arrest last year and no-contest plea in February.
But if there’s a running back who can take over a game, it’s Jones. And this Sunday against a Buffalo Bills defense that has allowed only 80 rushing yards per game so far, McCarthy will have to at least consider a game plan that includes much more of Jones.
Although it’s hard to take Williams off the field because he excels in the blitz-pickup department, neither he nor Montgomery has Jones’ explosiveness through even the smallest of openings. Jones' 5.6-yard average per carry in his short career leads all NFL backs with at least 85 rushes since the start of the 2017 season.
"I thought Aaron had a real nice start," McCarthy said Monday. "As far as his play-time numbers, we kind of hit the target that I was looking for. As we talked about last week, you’ve got to be smart with all your players, particularly when it’s the first time out there. He hadn’t played since Kansas City but, boy, I thought he did some really good things with the ball and did some good things in the passing game.
"I really like the rotation of having all three guys because they’re distinctly different, but all three can play all three downs, and that says a lot. We’ve never had this situation where you have three guys that can play three downs like that, so this will really help us moving forward."
An effective running game also could help Rodgers as he recovers from his knee injury. Sunday’s loss at Washington showed that his left knee will continue to limit him, at least for a few more weeks.
"We’ve got to run the ball better to start some of the [play]-action stuff," Rodgers said after the game. "But we put ourselves behind the stick a lot with negative-yardage plays. The next thing you know, we’re down by three scores. That’s kind of the way the game went."
McCarthy said all offseason that he envisioned a running-back-by-committee approach in part because none of the three backs had shown the ability to make it through an entire season without injury issues.
But it also might leave yards on the sideline, given how long it could take to identify the hot back on a particular day.
"Just keeping you fresh [is the positive]," said Williams, who led the Packers in rushing as a rookie last season with 556 yards. "The negative side is probably that you just don’t get the [reps] ... well, it depends on how you play with the snaps you’ve got. You pretty much have to make the snaps count when you are in there and be playmakers. That’s pretty much the only thing you can’t do. You can’t really get a good rhythm going if you were hot for a series and then the next person’s up. So you’ve got to wait for your turn again. But that’s pretty much it."
But Jones’ burst might push him to the front of that group.
"The ability to get vertical right after that as quick as possible, I feel like that helps me," Jones said. "And that’s where the explosiveness comes from -- that first step out of that skinny crease."