Saddled with a dearth of reliable wide receivers, Aaron Rodgers, Matt LaFleur and the Green Bay Packers went back to their backs over and again on Sunday night, with Aaron Jones the main beneficiary.
Jones, a running back, hauled in a game-high seven catches for 159 yards and two scores in Sunday night's 31-24 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
The third-year back, whose previous career receiving long was 24 yards, logged two receptions of at least 50 yards on Sunday. The first came on a deep ball down the left sideline against Anthony Hitchens in the first quarter; Jones would've housed the catch if his heel had not touched out at the 10-yard line. The second was the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter, a 67-yard catch-and-run on which Jones hit 20.78 mph.
If Jones' evening seemed out of the ordinary, that's because it was. The running back became the first Packers player since Jordy Nelson in Week 16, 2016 to have at least 150 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns in a single game -- and the first Packers RB to compile that stat line since the merger.
Jones, who had never gone over 145 yards on the ground before Sunday night, was pleasantly surprised that Green Bay went to him so often through the air to beat the AFC West leaders.
"Definitely my best day, college to NFL, in the receiving category," Jones said.
The Packers back's career high in receiving was 63 yards in the third-to-last game of the Mike McCarthy era. Jones said when the first-year coach LaFleur came into town this offseason, he knew that career-high number wouldn't last long.
"When coach LaFleur came in and showed us all the clips and you see the running backs line up everywhere and doing different things, you get excited at the beginning, like whoa, I'm going to have to learn that much," Jones explained. "But it's honestly not that much to learn. It clicks like that. Coach LaFleur does a great job."
"The way we're winning is interesting," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told reporters. "Jonesy had 159 receiving yards tonight. I remember one game in New Orleans where Eddie (Lacy) caught a bunch of screen passes and had about 130, but I don't remember anyone running a slant-and-go for a 50-yard gain.
"I think (Jones has) always been a good receiver hands-wise. He just maybe has a bigger route tree now, both guys (Jones and Jamaal Williams). ... It's a different skill set we're utilizing with those guys. It's fun to watch."
Not to be outdone by his backfield mate, Williams hauled in a touchdown catch of his own (one of his three grabs for 14 yards on the night).
As surprising as Jones' long gains were, it might have been his final grab that meant the most to him and his teammates. On third-and-5 from the GB 33 out of the two-minute warning, up seven points and with Kansas City out of timeouts, Jones was flexed out right. Off the snap, the motioning Jones ran a quick out, caught the pass from Rodgers and easily picked up the game-sealing first down.
"We were over there talking on the sideline how we're going to close the game out on third-and-5. The consensus was let's throw it to Jonesy," Rodgers said. "That says a lot about the kind of player that he is and how we're finding a way to win these games."
Jones added, "It was just an honor that they trust me this much."
Jones told reporters his goal this season has to been to lead the league in total touchdowns. Eight weeks in, the running back is doing just that. With 11 total scores (eight rushing, three receiving), Jones has one more score than MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey and two more than division-rival Dalvin Cook.
Rodgers and company chalk up the back's success to LaFleur's strategy and a new emphasis on maximizing Jones' talents.
"I think the scheme is obviously giving him opportunities to do a lot more out of the backfield," Rodgers said. "We're splitting out more and throwing it to him.
"We kind of caught lightning in a bottle there."