INDIANAPOLIS — Sometimes, all you need is an opportunity.
That couldn't ring more true for Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Williams, as he had the biggest performance of his professional career on Sunday in the Indianapolis Colts' 33-13 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Normally the fourth running back on the team's roster, Williams was active for just his third game of the season on Sunday. The Colts' normal backup running back, Jordan Wilkins, was inactive due to an ankle injury, which meant Williams' ability to run between the tackles was going to be more important in this matchup.
Although he was already part of the team's gameplan on Sunday, however, the Colts would end up needing Williams in an even bigger capacity than they even originally believed. Starting running back Marlon Mack paced the Colts with 14 carries for 109 yards before exiting the game with a hand injury early in the third quarter; the reins were turned over to Williams, who picked up where Mack left off.
Coming into the game, Williams had just two carries for one yard on the season and just 95 rushing yards in his four-year career, but by game's end on Sunday he had set new single-game career highs in just about everything — running the ball 13 times for 116 yards (8.9 avg.), including a 48-yard run, and adding one reception for 31 yards.
"This team always lives by the standard of 'Next man up.' Everybody has to be prepared," Williams told reporters after the game. "You never know what your role is gonna be going into the game because of injuries and things like that. Throughout the week, we prepared well, and I think that showed today."
Led by Williams, the Colts totaled 264 rushing yards, which is the most by the team since its 275-yard performance against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 21, 2004, and was the 12th-highest rushing total in franchise history.
Williams and Mack also became just the fourth pair of Colts runners to each have 100 yards rushing in a game — the first since Randy McMillan (112) and Albert Bentley (100) in 1985.
Although the Colts routed the Jaguars by 20 points, Williams made several key plays that helped make the lopsided victory possible.
Early in the second quarter, Williams took a handoff out of the shotgun and scooted 16 yards for a first down; that drive ended in a field goal for the Colts. Later, the Colts got the ball to start the second half, but after three plays and a couple of penalties, the Colts found themselves facing 3rd-and-19 from their own 24-yard line. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett dumped the ball off on a screen pass to Williams on the right side, and Williams weaved his way downfield for 31 yards, picking up much more yardage than needed and getting the ball into Jaguars territory. Six plays later, the drive would be punctuated with a touchdown for the Colts.
Head coach Frank Reich told reporters after the game that Nyheim Hines, and not Williams, was supposed to be in on that play, which is evidence of the latter's preparation.
"There was a miscommunication — it doesn't really matter how it happened — but Jonathan's out there for the play, and as coaches, we're talking about, 'Jonathan's never run this play. I'm not sure if he knows what to do,' right? Because this was truly just a Nyheim play," Reich said. "And then he ripped that off — that was pretty funny."
Then, early in the fourth quarter, Williams reeled off a career-long 48-yard run, setting up another Colts touchdown later in the drive to go up 31-7. The only big play Williams had where the drive didn't result in points for the Colts came late in the game on a 17-yard run, but the Colts were already in full control and ahead by 24 points at that point.
While he's had limited regular season opportunities to this point, the Colts knew Williams was perfectly capable of performances like Sunday's.
"If you saw anything from the preseason before he got hurt, that was the same stuff he was doing," Colts right guard Mark Glowinski said of Williams. "He was downhill, he was proving himself and he was showing that's the person he is, that's the kind of running back he is to get those yards. Even if he's getting stuffed within two yards, for him to just keep fighting and moving his feet, that's the kind of guy he is. He's just going forward and trying to get as much as he can."
Even though Williams had yet to carve out much of a role on gamedays for the Colts before Sunday, on many occasions over the last year, Reich and general manager Chris Ballard have talked glowingly to the media about Williams and their desire to eventually get him involved.
"You know, it's funny: Chris and I have — it's hard for me to really even explain how many times we've sat in my office and said, 'Did you see those runs Jonathan had today on scout team?' You can tell he's got great vision, quickness, speed, acceleration," Reich said after the game. "We've been wanting to get him an opportunity for a while. We feel really good about all the running backs we have — I mean, we feel like that's a strength. And I was really happy for Jonathan; he's waited patiently, he's really worked hard (and) did a great job."
If Mack has to miss some time with his hand injury, and depending on Wilkins' injury situation, Williams' role could continue in this capacity with the short turnaround this Thursday night against the Houston Texans.
When the Colts' backfield gets healthy, it'll create a good problem for them to have, but for now it's Williams' turn in the spotlight.
"He's always ready. Every time we're doing things he's always eavesdropping, but I guess it paid off today," Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett said of Williams with a laugh. "He did a heck of a job running the ball and understanding the runs that we had. For a guy that probably didn't get as many reps as Marlon Mack would or Nyheim Hines would and things like that, I think he understood the runs and made some great situational plays, going down, staying in bounds, keeping the clock rolling and not taking any unforced errors. He did a great job in protection and he gets rewarded like he did today."