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Saints running back Jamaal Williams relishes getting up close and personal with opposing defenses

'I'm not going to go in there light-footing it'

Check out the game action shots from the New Orleans Saints game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 17 of the 2023 NFL season.
Check out the game action shots from the New Orleans Saints game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 17 of the 2023 NFL season.

Last week, prior to the New Orleans Saints' game against Tampa Bay, Coach Dennis Allen chose running back Jamaal Williams to break down the team after practice one day.

Williams, colorfully, did so.

"He shows us every day how much this means to him," quarterback Derek Carr said. "And one of the things he said – I may use different words than he used – 'I'll run through somebody's face for y'all.' Like, this is not for me. And that was so powerful of a statement, so selfless.

"And when he got in the game, that's exactly what he did. And so you say something like that when you break the team down, then you go prove it to your teammates – and he's not pointing at himself, he's hugging his brothers, he's excited. He got the team going, so it was really cool to see that come to fruition."

Fruition looked like this: season highs in carries (19) and rushing yards (58) for Williams in the 23-13 victory. The regular-season finale for New Orleans (8-8) is Sunday against Atlanta (7-9) in the Caesars Superdome, another must-win game for the Saints to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Williams did his heaviest lifting in the second half, when he ran for 48 yards on 14 carries; he was the Saints' lone running back for the final two quarters, after Alvin Kamara exited before halftime with an ankle injury.

The injury kept Kamara, New Orleans' leading rusher with 694 yards and five touchdowns on 180 carries, out of Wednesday's and Thursday's practice.

Against the Buccaneers, Williams helped provide the Saints with a grinding, eat-the-clock runner, especially in the fourth quarter as he totaled 36 yards on nine carries, including his season-best 17-yarder to help set up a Blake Grupe field goal that pushed the lead to 23-7 with 3:48 left.

"It was honestly one of my most exciting moments," Williams said of the increased load. "It just felt good to get back in there. Like, even after the game, I felt it. I was like, 'Yeah, this was a great day.' It was a good workload.

"But I'm glad we came out with the dub, that's all that matters. Now we're on to this week, just trying to do the same thing – coming out successful and executing and just get the dub."

Williams said the flex against the Buccaneers is a trait of the team, which has won three of its last four games. New Orleans had a padded practice last Wednesday as a reminder of how it wanted to approach the game against Tampa Bay.

"That's just the type of team we are, being physical," he said. "We already know defense will do it, offense will do it so it's just all about us staying together, motivating each other and celebrating each other, too."

Along the way, Williams is more than willing to run through a few faces to get his point across.

"That's the type of person I am," he said. "I try to do more, but at the end of the day, it's all about being physical and letting the teammates know how I run. I'm not going to go in there light-footing it. But just go in there with all gas and have fun in there while I'm doing it. It was fun, honestly.

"I actually had (a Tampa Bay defender) – I don't know who it was – but he asked me, 'Why are you laughing?' Cause I'm laughing down there (on the turf). I guess he'd never seen me laugh before, but I was in there laughing. He said, 'What are you laughing for?' I said, 'To keep the pain away.' But it's just having fun. This game is a physical one, your body is going to feel it at the end of the game, so why not just go 100 percent while you're in there."

Williams said he felt stronger as the game progressed, evidenced by his final-quarter kick.

"Just mind-set," he said. "Willingness to go in there and put your body on the line and don't be afraid. You've just got to go in there with a fearless mind-set and just know your abilities.

"The more touches I get, the more familiar I get with the line and then it's us talking to each other, communicating and just seeing. I'm a different back than what A.K. is, so I just try to do my best to show them that the physicality is here, I see the blocks, I'm just trying to make sure that I make my linemen right."

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