EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Jamaal Williams wasn’t quite aware of what he accomplished inside MetLife Stadium when he left the locker room Sunday.
With three rushing touchdowns Sunday, the Detroit Lions running back continued to etch his name in the franchise record books alongside Billy Sims and Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, helping the Lions to their third straight win in a 31-18 victory over the New York Giants.
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Surrounded at his locker by a group of reporters, Williams hit a slight dance when he found out that not only did he lead the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns but that they are the most through 10 games in a season in team history. He also tied Sanders’ single-season record with his fifth game of multiple rushing touchdowns, a feat Williams says he doesn’t take for granted.
“It’s a good milestone. I’m not very good with compliments. I really don’t know what to say. I just say, ‘thank you’ and keep it pushing. It never gets to my head because I know I still have a lot more to prove,” Williams said. “So, I’m just trying to do my best. I’m grateful for these because it’s not just me. This goes for the linemen, too. My touchdowns are their touchdowns. Everybody who blocks for me does everything.”
Although Williams may not enjoy the praise, the sixth-year running back is playing the best football of his career and has emerged as the lead back in Detroit while backfield teammate D’Andre Swift continues to work through a shoulder and ankle injury.
Williams has already reached career bests in rushing yards (668) and carries (159) while helping the Lions roar back from a 1-6 start to second place in the NFC North at 4-6. An unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, he has shown his value through steady production and leadership. And although Williams had scored only nine rushing touchdowns in his previous four seasons heading into 2022, Lions head coach Dan Campbell says he wasn’t surprised by the three-touchdown performance against the Giants.
“If you just listed your most consistent players — most dependable, consistent players — he would definitely be at the top of that list,” Campbell said of the 27-year-old back. “He would be one of those guys, so I would say he’s definitely a leader on our team. But, there again, what he did today, doesn’t surprise me, but that’s another credit to this offensive line.”
Entering the Giants game, running backs coach Duce Staley also lauded Williams as their “leader.”
“Not just offensively, but our team leader,” Staley said during Thursday’s practice.
Staley further elaborated on Williams’ leadership, which, when coupled with his production, gives him credibility among his teammates. The Lions certainly have flashier players on the roster, but he’s become an unlikely pacesetter of the team.
“Well, you know it’s not about the name on the back of your jersey that makes you a leader. It’s all about your actions. So, in vulnerable times he’s sharing stories in front of the group,” Staley said. “I’ve seen him shed tears in front of the group. I’ve seen him laugh, joke around, have fun in front of the group. I’ve seen him when he’s having a good practice and someone else is not, walk over there and put his arm around his shoulder and talk to him. And that means a lot to us.”
Lions’ receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown says he’s happy for what Williams has been able to accomplish during this career season.
“He knows what it feels like to win, and he goes out there and plays his heart out,” St. Brown said. “I’m excited for him. Shoot, let’s get him that touchdown crown at the end of the year.”
Coming off back-to-back road wins in which the Lions have scored 31 points in each game, Detroit returns home for the annual Thanksgiving Day game, versus the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field (12:30 p.m. ET, CBS).
Thanks to the running game headlined by Williams, Detroit has scored at least 24 points in seven of their 10 games this season. Williams’ 12 rushing touchdowns are sixth-most in a season in Lions history, and his strong play has all-but cemented him as Detroit’s lead back for the remainder of 2022. Even then, he’s still not satisfied.
“Just trying to grow. I’m learning that maturing happens every single year. You should never want to feel stagnant, never think that you’re too good to improve because you can always improve no matter how old you are,” Williams told ESPN. “Really, just looking at myself now. If I was little and looked at myself now, I would be very amazed about what I’m doing now and just the self-confidence and just the self-belief in myself to keep pushing and understand it’s OK that you don’t think you’re that person, but you are. You don’t think too big of yourself, but you do big things and you’re doing great things for your teammates.”