GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Jones was on his way to scoring his second touchdown in the Green Bay Packers’ season-opening victory at Chicago when he clutched his left hamstring before crossing the goal line.
Jones’ season — and the Packers’ offense — haven’t been the same since. He’s hoping that changes Sunday in Denver.
The 28-year-old Jones has missed three of Green Bay’s past four games because of that hamstring issue.
Without their most proven playmaker, the young Packers offense has struggled.
“It can be hard on yourself, not playing when you want to play, not having that effect you want to have,” Jones said. “Especially coming into this year, I felt like I was just heating up, especially Week 1, it was like, ‘Aww, man it’s going to be a long year for these guys lining up across from me.'”
Instead, it’s been a long wait for Jones to get back to full strength. But Jones says he recovered during Green Bay’s bye week and feels as well as he has since before the injury.
He’s optimistic about playing Sunday when the Packers (2-3) visit the Broncos (1-5).
“Anytime you get those extra added days with rest, it’s huge,” said Jones, who practiced on a limited basis Wednesday. “I was able to stay here with our training staff to get right. It gave me some confidence going into this week. I was able to get out there today and run around and do some drills, have a little bit of practice. It did a lot for my confidence.”
Without its most proven playmaker, Green Bay’s young offense has struggled to move the ball.
Since that 38-20 triumph at Chicago, the Packers have averaged just 18.8 points over their past four games and haven’t exceeded 24 points in any of them.
Jones played just one game during that stretch, when he had a limited snap count and carried the ball just five times as the Packers fell 34-20 to the Detroit Lions on Sept. 28. He didn’t play in the Packers’ next game — a 17-13 loss at Las Vegas on Oct. 9 — after hurting the hamstring again a couple of days beforehand.
“Going for a ball in the back of the end zone, I tweaked it,” Jones said. “I was still hopeful I could play. I was feeling OK after. Coach (Matt) LaFleur was like, ‘I don’t have a good feeling about this, you just tweaked it, I haven’t seen you run full speed, let’s be smart.’ And like I said, Coach LaFleur always has my best interest in mind. I always respect him for that.
“It definitely was bothering me to sit out. Me and him were sitting there contemplating it for a long time, and he was just like ‘I don’t feel good about it.’ “
Green Bay already entered this season with the NFL’s youngest offense even before most of its top players on that side of the ball got hurt.
Left tackle David Bakhtiari played just one game before getting knocked out for the season because of knee issues he’s been dealing with since tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament on Dec. 31, 2020.
Wide receiver Christian Watson missed three games with a hamstring issue and left guard Elgton Jenkins sat out two games with a knee problem, though both have since returned.
Having Jones back could make a major difference.
“He’s an explosive playmaker,” quarterback Jordan Love said. “That’s a guy that we need to get the ball to when he’s in. The tape doesn’t lie.”
Jones is one of only three players in NFL history — Jim Brown and Adrian Peterson are the others — to rush for at least 5,000 yards while scoring 60-plus touchdowns from scrimmage and gaining at least 5 yards per carry over their first six seasons.
Jones has accomplished that in part by staying healthy, as he played all 17 games last season and missed a total of four games from 2019-22.
Now that he’s on the verge of returning, Jones hopes he can rejuvenate the Packers’ slumping offense.
“I just know when I get in the huddle, the guys, they listen to me,” Jones said. “They see me as a leader. So I hope I can bring a spark to them and give them that sense of confidence, and we can just go out there and play.”