Aaron Jones, that is. With the fifth-round rookie’s 20 yard TD scamper in OT, the door is still open for the return of the “other” Aaron, Aaron Rodgers. After sitting out the last two weeks due to a knee sprain, Aaron Jones’ first carry back from injury brought the Packers back to 6-6 and kept their playoff hopes alive for another week. While the offense as a whole was rather inept at moving the ball downfield, the defense and special teams units stepped up and hope to carry that success heading into next week’s matchup against the winless Cleveland Browns. Although the Browns may be easy to overlook, the Packers absolutely must beat Cleveland to have any hope of Aaron Rodgers returning from injury to lead a potential playoff run. Let’s take a look at some players who stepped up against Tampa Bay yesterday, and others who need to turn their performances around in order to build off this victory.
LB Clay Matthews: Similar to Aaron Jones, Matthews had also missed previous time due to injury. Matthews had a very productive game, tallying 2.5 sacks and leading the Packers pass rush to seven total sacks on the day. Matthews also racked up seven total tackles and looked like the dominant pass rusher that Packers fans have been yearning to see from him for a long time. While it is unlikely Matthews keeps up this pace on a weekly basis, expect to see him pressuring the Browns Quarterback Carousel early and often next week.
DE Dean Lowry: A new addition to this list, Lowry is a second-year former 4th-round pick who specializes in rushing the passer. While Lowry doesn’t earn consistent opportunities in Dom Capers’ defense, he made the most of them in this matchup. Lowry garnered only his second sack on the season when he chased down Buccaneers’ QB Jameis Winston on third down in the middle of the 3rd quarter to force a punt. That wasn’t his biggest moment of the day, however. With just over 4 minutes to go before halftime, Lowry snagged a loose ball from Jameis Winston as he got sacked by a few different Packers’ defenders and proceeded to return it 62 yards to garner a two-possession lead on the Buccaneers. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a defensive lineman like Lowry, the former Northwestern Wildcat showed some speed in his return and hopefully will continue to make plays in the remaining games of the season so as to keep Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels fresh.
RB Jamaal Williams: While Aaron Jones was the back to punch the ball in for the win, this game would’ve been a disaster offensively if it wasn’t for Jamaal Williams. The rookie 4th-rounder played the best game of his short career, totaling 113 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Williams has looked good running the football ever since Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones succumbed to injuries, but this past matchup he really elevated his game to a new level. Every time Williams touched the football, he seemingly gained 7-8 yards for either a first down or at the very least a manageable amount of yardage on the next down. Both Williams and Jones have looked like fantastic picks so far by General Manager Ted Thompson, and will continue to be a dangerous 1-2 punch with Ty Montgomery now shelved indefinitely with a wrist injury.
Run Defense: For a unit that has been rather stout the majority of the 2017 season, the Packers’ run defense played atrociously against the NFL’s 28th-ranked rushing offense missing its starting running back. The Packers went ahead and gave Buccaneers’ backup RB Peyton Barber his career high totals of 102 yards on 23 carries, and also allowed third-down back Jacquizz Rodgers to scamper for a 19 yard gain at the end of the third quarter. While this game seems to be a fluke when it comes to the run defense’s ability, it is a bit concerning to see backup running backs running like this behind a banged up offensive line when next week Cleveland will almost certainly try to use their rushing attack to win their first game of the season. Hopefully Capers and defensive line coach Mike Trgovac work out the kinks and get this unit back on its feet in time for next Sunday.
QB Brett Hundley: Yes, I know the Packers were able to pull out a victory with Hundley playing the entire 60 minutes, but I feel the Packers won in spite of Hundley, not because of him. The Buccaneers, while possessing a deadly passing attack, were coming into the game with a banged up offensive line, the aforementioned poor running game, and the NFL’s 32nd-ranked defense. Not only this, but the Packers’ defense scored a touchdown and Kyler Fackrell blocked a punt on special teams, yet Hundley still couldn’t capitalize on these opportunities as he only threw for a measly 84 yards and an interception. Watching this game, it was rather difficult to put any faith in Hundley whenever he dropped back, for fear of taking a sack or throwing the ball deep only for it to get intercepted by a Tamba Bay defensive back. One thing Hundley did have going for him this game was that he was a threat running the ball, tallying 66 yards and making good reads on a couple of option plays. To the put the Packers in the best position to win with Hundley behind center, McCarthy should consider calling more of these option read plays and continue to give opportunities to Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, until Rodgers’ potential Week 15 return.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com.