Jonathan Williams bides times, enjoys breakout game as Colts grind Jaguars into submission
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – He’s waited, waited and waited some more for a moment like this.
And there Jonathan Williams was Sunday, the epicenter of a media scrum.
He stood in front of his locker in an Indianapolis Colts locker room at Lucas Oil Stadium that included Darius Leonard and Quenton Nelson and Zach Pascal and Malik Hooker and so many other recognizable faces.
The last time Williams was in so much demand?
“I don’t know,’’ he said. “It’s been a long time.’’
For the record, it was Dec. 30, 2014. Williams was one of the co-stars as Arkansas dominated Texas 31-7 in the Texas Bowl in Houston’s NRG Stadium. He rushed 23 times for 105 yards.
That also was the last time Williams eclipsed the 100-yard mark. Until Sunday.
In a Just-Run-The-Damn-Ball 33-13 blowout of Jacksonville, the Colts pounded away at the Jaguars 36 times for 264 yards, their highest yield since a 275-yard outing against Chicago in 2004.
Marlon Mack danced for 109 yards on 14 carries before exiting the game in the third quarter with a fractured hand that most certainly will force him to miss time, including Thursday night’s game at Houston.
And Williams added 116 yards on 13 carries.
“What a cool thing for Jonathan,’’ tight end Jack Doyle said, looking at his locker room neighbor.
It marked just the fourth time in franchise history the Colts had two backs crack the 100-yard mark in the same game: Albert Bentley and Randy McMillan in 1985; Lydell Mitchell and Don McCauley in 1973; Alan Ameche and Lenny Moore in 1956.
Now, Marlon Mack and Jonathan Williams.
That Mack hit triple figures wasn’t necessarily newsworthy. It was his third 100-yard game of the season and eighth of his career, including the postseason.
Williams? He strolled into Lucas Oil Stadium with 95 career rushing yards in 16 scattered games. His best outing netted 26 yards against Cincinnati in November 2016 when he was with Buffalo.
His track record with the Colts: two games, seven offensive snaps, two carries, 1 yards.
Chris Ballard and Frank Reich have been in Williams corner since they signed him to their practice squad Oct. 2, 2018. He was promoted to the active roster in mid-November, in large part as a reward for his work ethic in practice, but never saw a snap in a game.
Williams was in line to be part of Tom Rathman’s formidable running backs room – Mack, Nyhiem Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Jonathan Williams – but that was delayed when he suffered a rib injury against Cleveland in the preseason.
As he quietly bided his time, Williams caught eyes in practice.
“Chris and I, it’s funny to explain how many times we’ve sat in my office and said, ‘Did you see those runs Jonathan had today on scout team?’’’ Reich said. “You could tell he’s got great vision and quickness, speed and acceleration. Been wanting to get him an opportunity for a while.
“But happy for Jonathan. He’s waited patiently.’’
“He comes in and he works hard,’’ Jacoby Brissett said. “He’s always ready. Every time we’re doing things he’s always eavesdropping, but I guess it paid off today.’’
That patience paid off. Buffalo selected Williams in the fifth round of the 2016 draft, and he subsequently bounced from Denver to New Orleans to Indy.
And then Sunday.
“It’s tough,’’ Williams admitted. “And there’s a lot of nights on my knees praying to God, talking to God, talking to my family. Seriously. A lot of days on my knees praying to God, asking for guidance, not really understanding why I haven’t been able to do this, do that.
“I’m just having patience.’’
Never once had Williams considered walking away, convinced a day like Sunday would never come.
“Everything doesn’t come when you want it,’’ he said. “It’s something that throughout my time, talking to guys I’ve realized just because you want something, it’s not going to come right away.
“Sometimes it takes patience. That makes it more gratifying when it does come because you have waited and you were faithful to God.’’
The game plan against Jacksonville was run-centric from the outset. Brissett was back after missing last week’s humbling loss to Miami with a sprained knee, and no one was interested in asking him to do too much too soon. He brought stability to the offense, passing for 148 yards and a touchdown to Marcus Johnson and rushing twice for 12 yards and a TD.
Run the Damn Ball.
“To run the ball the way we did against those guys was crazy,’’ Reich said. “We just felt like we really needed to get the running game back on track.
“I don’t think you ever expect to run for that many yards in an NFL game. Defenses are too good, and that defense . . . I have so much respect for that defense.’’
Reich noticed something when he caught a glimpse of All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson during the week of practice. Something different.
“I just didn’t want to be in his road this week,’’ Reich said. “He just had something special going on this week.’’
Nelson recalled the encounter, but insisted it was just another no-nonsense week. The offensive line always – always – wants to be the group imposing its will on an opponent.
“Just the belief we have in ourselves that we can run against anyone,’’ Nelson said. “It was fun today. Had a good time.’’
The tone was set on the Colts’ first scoring drive. On the 11-play, 76-yard possession last in the first quarter, Mack accounted for 52 yards on six rushes, capped by a nifty, spinning, tackles-breaking 13-yard TD.
“You come back to the sideline and looking around you’re like, ‘Man, we just did that. We imposed our will,’’’ center Ryan Kelly said. “It’s a great feeling.’’
It’s also nice to run behind that offensive line.
“I have a great offensive line that I ran behind,’’ Williams said. “They should get most of the credit.
“They were opening up huge lanes. I’m just running behind those guys.”
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