GREEN BAY – For all of Aaron Jones’ individual success over the years, winning hasn’t always come naturally for the Packers’ third-year running back.
In four years at the University of Texas-El Paso, Jones experienced only one winning season (a 7-6 campaign that ended with a loss in the New Mexico Bowl during his sophomore season). His first two years in the NFL? Thirteen combined wins.
So maybe that’s what has made this year’s run extra sweet for Jones, whose 1,558 total yards and 19 touchdowns helped propel Green Bay to a 13-3 record and its first NFC North title in three years.
The Packers now hold the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs, giving them a first-round bye for the first time in five years and guaranteeing the first game Green Bay plays will take place at Lambeau Field on Jan. 12.
That matchup will come after an extra week of rest, of course.
“You can’t beat that,” said Jones after Sunday’s 23-20 win over Detroit. “I feel like first you have to come to Lambeau, so that’s an advantage for us. And one less game you have to play in the playoffs is also an advantage, I feel like. So this win right here was big. We felt like it was a playoff game in this locker room. We have to attack every game like that.”
It’s a special time for the entire locker room, from the 2017 and 2018 draft classes that have yet to play postseason football to the seven veterans who remain from the last Packers team to earn a first-round bye back in 2014.
Head Coach Matt LaFleur gave players off on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The team will reconvene for practice on Thursday and Friday before learning whichever highest advancing seed they’ll face from this weekend’s NFC Wild Card playoffs.
Offensive lineman Lucas Patrick was a rookie on Green Bay’s practice squad when the 2016 team ran the table from a 4-6 midseason record to the NFC Championship Game. As remarkable as that was, he’ll gladly take the extra week of rest and recovery for this year’s stretch run.
“It’s huge. It’ll be my first-ever bye, postseason,” Patrick said. “I think it says a lot about this team and a willingness to come together to win. That’s what in playoff games you need. It’ll be nice to have a week off, get even closer as a team, rest up, lick the wounds and come back and be ready to go with whomever we have to face.”