Acme Packing Company’s countdown of the Green Bay Packers’ best plays of the 2018 season continues on today with play number three, as voted by our writers.
This play earned one first-place vote, and it never showed up lower than fifth on any of our ballots. Based on our voting, rookie running back Aaron Jones gets the honor for play number three.
As with play number four, which we revealed on Tuesday, this play comes in the Packers’ week 13 contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Packers entered the game at 5-6, effectively needing to win out over the final five games to make a run at a playoff spot. That seemed unlikely, given Brett Hundley’s struggles. However, there was reason for optimism after a close 31-28 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers the week before, when Hundley had his best game as a pro.
Over the course of this game, Hundley and the offense struggled mightily, scoring just one touchdown all game (and that came after a deflected punt gave them the ball across midfield). However, a touchdown from Dean Lowry (our fourth-ranked play of the year) helped keep the team in the game and Mason Crosby tied the game late in the fourth quarter to send the game to OT.
The Packers won the coin toss prior to overtime and ran Jamaal Williams heavily on the first drive of the extra period. Hundley also picked up a pair of first downs with his legs before Williams converted a third-and-one with a 12-yard reception, putting the Packers at the Bucs’ 20-yard line with a first-and-ten.
On this play, the Packers are in 22 personnel, one of the rare times they lined up with that grouping all year. Jordy Nelson is wide to the left, there are two tight ends on the right side of the line, and the backs are in an I formation with Aaron Ripkowski at fullback and Aaron Jones as the tailback.
At the snap, Hundley turns left and hands off to Jones, running to the right behind Lane Taylor, who is pulling from left guard. Justin McCray pushes his man downfield a bit but Richard Rodgers, who lined up as the inside tight end, gets shoved inside by his defender. He is able to at least keep him from penetrating into the backfield, but Jones, seemingly intending to run through the gap McCray and Taylor are opening up, runs right into Rodgers’ back.
It’s at this point that Jones’ vision and agility take over, showing why he has the potential to be such an explosive running back.
Look at the image below. If you look closely, you can see Jones (circled) looking to his left and seeing some daylight. This is when he bounces off the linemen and cuts back to the left:
David Bakhtiari got an early block on right defensive end Will Clarke (94), who reads the play and appears to follow the Packers’ blockers up the field and towards the right side of the line. He doesn’t see Jones cut back left until it’s too late; Jones out-sprints Clarke to the edge, bends around the corner quickly, and follows Nelson’s down-field block on cornerback Brent Grimes. Jones takes off for the end zone from the two-yard line, leaping between Grimes and safety Keith Tandy to cross the goal line and give the Packers an overtime victory.
This play by definition won the game for the Packers; they scored a touchdown in overtime, which is all you need for a victory, even with the new OT rules. It also kept the Packers’ slim playoff hopes alive for another week.
This play was one of just two snaps Jones took on the day and it was his only touch of the football. It also was at least partially responsible for Packers fans calling for him to see more action over the final month of the season. He only got ten more carries the rest of the way, but he did have a pair of 20-yard carries in the span of three plays against the Panthers two weeks later. This is one of the most obvious examples of Jones making something out of nothing, something his other backfield counterparts couldn’t do with regularity, and should be a reason that Jones should earn a somewhat larger share of the running back responsibilities moving forward into 2018.