ARLINGTON, Texas — Aaron Jones claimed last week he could go toe-to-toe with Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott if that's what the situation called for.
Sunday, the situation called for it and the Green Bay Packers' third-year man backed up his words.
With wide receiver Davante Adams sitting out due to injury, the Packers, challenged in various ways offensively during their first four games, were desperately seeking a playmaker to show them the way heading into Sunday's matchup of 3-1 teams. Even though Jones had been a significant factor in only one of the Packers' first four games, first-year coach Matt LaFleur designed an offense based on heavy doses of Jones as a runner and a receiver.
When the Packers needed him most, Jones came through. He rolled up 182 yards from scrimmage and scored four touchdowns as the Packers took a 31-3 lead and held on for a 34-24 victory over the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.
"I think I made a pretty big statement showing what kind of running back I am and what I can do," Jones said. "I felt like I did go toe-to-toe with him."
Actually, Jones outdid Elliott, the highest-paid running back in NFL history, both statistically and, of course, on the scoreboard.
Jones had 19 carries for 107 yards, seven catches for 75 yards and those four touchdown runs, becoming the first Packers player to rush for four scores since Dorsey Levens did it on Jan. 2, 2000. Elliott had 12 carries for 62 yards, two catches for 29 yards and one touchdown.
Advantage, Jones. Advantage, Packers.
"I like to leave it with no doubt that I feel like I’m the best out there," Jones said. "So I try to leave no doubt in anyone else’s mind."
Those who follow the Packers have no doubt Jones can do such things because they've seen him do them on occasion during his time in Green Bay. But he's always been a tease. He'd have a great run here, a great game there, but in part due to a string of injuries, he could never seem to put good games together.
Jones has to start doing that more often because LaFleur needs Jones' running ability and versatility to make his offense work. Jones' ability to function effectively behind a zone-blocking scheme and his pass-receiving skills make him a perfect fit for the offense.
Sunday showed why. First Jones displayed his potential and, in turn, the offense displayed its potential, going on long drives and punching the ball in when it reached the red zone.
The Packers were outgained 563 to 335 by the Cowboys, but their offense hummed for three quarters as they controlled the ball and took leads of 24-0 and 31-3. It was the best LaFleur's offense has looked and it was vitally important coming off a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in a game where Jones went nowhere on the ground and quarterback Aaron Rodgers was asked to throw 53 passes.
With Jones gashing the Cowboys as a rusher and receiver and Rodgers distributing 31 passes to nine different receivers, LaFleur's offense finally looked like it was supposed to look. Even without Adams.
"We always try to put together the best plan as possible," LaFleur said. "Aaron, tonight he definitely came up big. He broke a lot of tackles out there and he finished runs. We knew going into this game we had to be physical. It starts up front."
After running for 116 yards on 23 carries against Minnesota in the second game of the season, Jones had totaled 40 yards on 23 carries against Denver and Philadelphia. Against Dallas, he found some good-sized holes and consistently maximixed them with his speed, quickness and cutting ability. And unlike the Minnesota game, the Packers sustained a physical running game until the end, especially late in the fourth quarter when, up by 10, they ground out two first downs and took almost 4 minutes off the clock.
"I think today was the run game," Rodgers said. "Last week, we threw it pretty effectively. I thought we controlled the line of scrimmage well. We ran the ball well and really just had the one sack; the other one, I just kind of gave myself up so they had to use a timeout. I think it was a little better tempo, a little better job with what was working. We stuck with the run today, especially in the red zone. Last week, we were aggressive throwing the ball."
Passing the ball didn't produce a victory. Running the ball did, even though the Packers defense lost its grip on the Cowboys offense in the last quarter and a half.
"He was running well with his typical style — slasher, cutbacks, breaking tackles," Rodgers said. "I thought it was a great for him. He was obviously the hot hand and got a lot of touches down in the red zone and finished those off nicely."
But can Jones avoid injury and do it every week? Until he does, that question will always be asked.
"I think there's a lot of questions, is he's an every-down back because of his size?' " tackle Bryan Bulaga said. "I don't think there's a lot of (doubt). We know in the building he can play every down and he can do those things. He can stand in there in protection, he can get out on routes and he can run the ball. He's one of those guys you can have in there every down and he can do those things. I think every week he can perform like that."
If he does, LaFleur's offense has a chance to live up to expectations.