GREEN BAY, Wis. -- AJ Dillon made a promise Sunday night: His Lambeau Leaps will improve by the time fans are allowed to celebrate with him next season.
The way he ran against the Tennessee Titans, he'll likely get plenty more chances in the future.
And perhaps he'll be the Green Bay Packers’ running back of the future.
The only thing that marred his 21-carry, 124-yard, two-touchdown showing in Sunday's 40-14 win were his two feeble attempts at the Packers' patented touchdown celebration. After his first touchdown, a 30-yard run in the third quarter on a fourth-and-1 play with the help of a block by Allen Lazard, Dillon slipped on his way up the snow-covered wall. On his second attempt, after his 7-yard score in the fourth quarter, Lazard assisted again -- that time at boosting him all the way up to the empty Lambeau Field stands.
"I'm looking forward to when fans are back next year and everything and they can help me up there a little bit," Dillon said. "I'll have it perfected by then."
By then, everyone might know Algiers Jameal William Dillon Jr. as the Packers' go-to back. If the Packers don't re-sign Aaron Jones between now and free agency in March, then Sunday night could be their justification.
For now, however, the Packers might have found another option at just the right time and for just the right conditions.
If the Packers beat the Chicago Bears in Sunday's season finale, they will play all of their NFC playoff games at Lambeau Field. In snowy conditions, Jones and Dillon beat the Titans at their own game. They combined for 218 of the Packers' 234 yards rushing -- 143 of which came after contact, which was tied for their most in a game since ESPN began tracking that in 2006. Dillon finished with 76 of his yards after contact, the second most by a Packer over the past three seasons. Jones had 78 of his 94 yards (on 10 carries) outside the tackles, also the second most by a Packer over the past three seasons.
When Aaron Rodgers wasn't throwing to Davante Adams (11 catches, 142 yards, three touchdowns), the Packers were keeping things going on the ground, especially in the second half. That's when they had 147 yards rushing and 107 of that after contact, their second most for both over the past 10 seasons.
All while the NFL's leading rusher, Derrick Henry, a 6-foot-3, 247-pound back that so many compared Dillon (6-0, 247) to when the Packers picked him in the second round this year, never had a run longer than 10 yards among his 23 carries for 98 yards.
"That's somebody I've studied so much of his film," Dillon said. "I obviously respect a ton, especially being bigger backs and obviously as you mentioned, constantly being compared during my time at [Boston College] and the combine and even now. Being the rushing king two years in a row, obviously big respect to him and just to kind of be in the same talking point, it's a huge honor."
All this after the longest stint on the reserve/COVID-19 list by any player who has been activated off it this season. Dillon spent 38 days away from the team (from Nov. 2 through Dec. 10) and missed five games before he was cleared to return. Before Sunday night, he had only one carry for 18 yards since his last appearance in a game, on Nov. 1 against the Vikings. He came into Sunday's game with 115 yards rushing and no touchdowns for the season.
"We're just thankful, first of all, that he's healthy and was able to fight through it," LaFleur said. "I know there were some scary moments, definitely, for him in terms of just battling through that."
Dillon wouldn't reveal how sick he was but said: "I'll be the poster boy for COVID is the real deal. It affects everybody differently, for sure. One person may have no symptoms. Somebody may have very serious symptoms. Not to go too much into myself, but for me it was a hard process."
Jamaal Williams’ absence with a quad injury put Dillon in line for a bigger role against the Titans, but that increased even more when Jones got banged up on the game's first series and missed some snaps.
"AJ did exactly what I've been waiting for this whole time," Adams said. "I mean obviously I've seen what he can do in practice. He's had a couple of flashes, but to have a solid game like that, outrush Derrick Henry when he didn't even start, I mean just a great performance. It was great for him, multiple touchdowns today, so it was just huge. I think he did a lot for us, and he did a lot for himself just to be able to prove it.
"Between the O-line and AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones, they deserve the game ball, them and the defense. They went out there and did their thing. AJ's a monster, so I think you're going to see a lot more of that moving forward."