Win over Dolphins shows Packers that Aaron Jones is the answer

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Jones needed this.

And the Green Bay Packers need Aaron Jones.

Jones made his best case yet that the offense must run through his hands and feet.

And if the Packers’ coaching staff doesn’t realize that this season is now Jones-or-bust, then perhaps they never will.

The speedy Jones rushed for a career-high 145 yards (on just 15 carries), including a 67-yard blur that was the Packers’ longest run in more than five years. His first career two-rushing-touchdown day paved the way to Sunday’s 31-12 win over the Miami Dolphins at Lambeau Field. In all, he accounted for 172 yards from scrimmage.

With seven games left in a 4-4-1 season, the second-year running back is the Packers’ best chance.

“Well, it slows down the rush for sure and opens up the potential for some play-action stuff,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “He got going though, I mean he really did. He’s a really good back, a slasher, fast, tough to take down. The first guy doesn’t bring him down a whole lot. He did a good job for us tonight, caught the ball well on the first drive and did a nice job in the protection.”

Jones’ 145 yards rushing tied for the fourth-most in a game with Rodgers at quarterback.

There were points in Brett Favre’s career when he had a special running back. There was Ahman Green’s 1,883-yard season in 2003 -- still the Packers’ single-season rushing record -- that was part of a five-year run of 1,000-yard seasons by the franchise’s rushing leader. Even Rodgers had a pair of multiple 1,000-yard rushers -- Ryan Grant with back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons (2008 and 2009) and Eddie Lacy with consecutive 1,100-yard seasons (2013 and 2014).

Jones -- because of his two-game suspension to start the season and coach Mike McCarthy’s reluctance to make him the primary back until Week 9 (and not until after GM Brian Gutekunst shipped off Ty Montgomery in a trade, thus ending the three-back committee that also included Jamaal Williams) -- won’t come anywhere close to those Green or Grant numbers.

He had only 350 rushing yards this season before Sunday, but his 6.03-yard average led the NFL. Almost inexplicably, he had not carried more than 14 times in a game, and that season high came the previous week at New England, where he fumbled in the fourth quarter.

But it doesn’t mean he can’t carry the Packers back into playoff contention.

“I think he made up for the fumble this week,” guard Byron Bell said. “That’s the pulse of the NFL. One week, it don’t go our way but come out swinging and got 100-plus yards. Hell of a deal by him.”

What other options do they have?

Davante Adams, of course, has proven himself as one of the NFL’s top receivers, but defenses have been all over him. Still, he caught a pair of touchdowns -- giving him nine for the season and 30 since the start of the 2016 season -- but caught just four passes for 57 yards.

Rodgers doesn’t have enough weapons outside of Adams and rookie Marquez Valdes-Scantling (six catches for 44 yards) or reliable enough protection to be as pass-happy as he was in the first half of the season.

And it’s a team that still makes too many mistakes, most of them on special teams: a fumbled punt return by Tramon Williams, a blocked JK Scott punt and a Dolphins fake punt that was so obvious on fourth-and-1 in a 16-point game late in the third quarter.

To be sure, if McCarthy had not committed to Jones against the Dolphins, a team that brought the NFL’s 28th-ranked run defense to Lambeau Field, then he’d have some explaining to do. That Jones finished with only 15 carries was partially a product of the Packers resting him late in the fourth quarter.

By halftime, Jones already had the Packers’ first 100-yard rushing game of the season on just eight carries. On his 67-yard run, he hit a maximum speed of 21.33 mph -- the fastest top speed by a Packers ball carrier in the last three seasons, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

“Dang, how fast was the dude who caught me?” Jones said. “I don’t think I’ve ever run 21 miles (per hour) before in my life. But I’ve definitely seen that [stat], when we play at different places and I always like look and I’ve never seen my name up there. I didn’t know I was that fast. I felt slow at the time, but now you told me I was 21 miles per hour, I don’t feel slow. So, thank you, you made me feel better.”

Jones averaged 7.9 yards per rush before contact Sunday, the second-best rate by any player with 15 or more rushes in a game this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Jones entered the day with a league-best 4.2 yards per rush before contact.

“He don’t mess around,” Adams said. “He gets up on people, and everything is full speed. I think he just plays too fast for everybody. He’s not the fastest guy even in the locker room, but the play speed and the way he attacks people and gets on their toes, I think it’s unmatched in the league right now.”

McCarthy must give Jones more than a cursory chance on Thursday night at Seattle, where the Packers will try to win their first road game of the season.