GREEN BAY – Jamaal Williams’ first shot at significant playing time on offense didn’t turn out exactly how the Packers’ rookie running back would’ve hoped.
Stepping in for an injured Ty Montgomery on Sept. 28, Williams carried the ball four times in 12 snaps against the Chicago Bears before a knee injury knocked him out for the game.
So it only stands to reason Williams’ second chance came against the same exact opponent Sunday at Soldier Field.
After patiently waiting for his next opportunity, Williams rose from the third-string ranks to provide the Packers with 20 carries for 67 yards after Montgomery and Aaron Jones exited in the first half of an eventual 23-16 win over the Bears.
“You just wait for your opportunities,” Williams said. “You really just have to wait for them, keep your head up, keep your momentum up and be about the team. Coaches see that, if you’re about the team and you don’t care about your stats and stuff like that and how many times you get on the field on offense.”
Williams’ 3.4 yards per carry didn’t tell the whole story of his day. He converted four first downs in the final 16 minutes of the game and was credited by the coaches with seven broken tackles, according to offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett.
A good chunk of his 67 yards came after contact and only twice on his 20 attempts did get stopped for lost yardage or no gain.
It wasn’t ideal for the Packers to lose their top two running backs and have to play the second half with only Williams, fullback Aaron Ripkowski and receiver Randall Cobb as backfield options.
At the same, a switch to Williams didn’t cause the coaches to alter the game plan.
“We knew going into it based on again his practice habits, starting going all the way back to training camp when he had quite a few opportunities, and then going into the season, he’s one of those guys who just keeps working,” Bennett said. “He applies what he’s doing on the practice field and he had an opportunity (Sunday) to make the most of his opportunities and he did that.”
Williams, the first of the three running backs the Packers drafted last offseason, could’ve easily been rattled by a reduced role in the offense, but instead he embraced the third-string job.
While waiting for work on offense, the 6-foot, 213-pound running back carved out a niche on special teams. For as much publicity as his performance on the ground generated Sunday, he actually earned a game ball for his work on special teams.
Williams’ biggest highlight came on kickoff coverage when he stayed with the play, found Tarik Cohen and tackled him before the Chicago running back could break through a developing hole.
As the season has progressed, Head Coach Mike McCarthy has witnessed “a total confidence” in Williams and it showed Sunday.
“I thought Jamaal Williams played excellent,” McCarthy said. “He clearly played his best football as a Green Bay Packer, the way he came in there and ran the football at the time where you needed to run it. He had phone-booth style runs and he delivered. I was very impressed with the way he played.”
His coach called it his best game as a Packer, but the rookie running back still wishes for more. Widely praised for his 4-yard gain on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter, Williams said afterward he should’ve kept his head up and tried to score.
The Packers know they’ll be without Jones for “multiple weeks,” according to McCarthy. While it remains to be seen what the forecast is for Montgomery, Williams is staying ready.
“It just felt great to have the coaches have confidence in me to execute and get first downs,” Williams said. “Once your number’s called, you’ve got to make the best of those opportunities. Really, I’m just excited to get in there, I’m excited to get the first downs but, most importantly, I’m excited to get the ‘W.’”
Complete game coverage: