In a playoff game in December, Lenny returns

TAMPA – Crunch time took on new meaning when Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette slammed the defender the way he did in Sunday’s 19-16 overtime win over Arizona.

After losing his starting job to rookie Rachaad White in Week 10, Fournette is more of a role player in the Bucs’ offense.

The team believes White is a future star — an explosive runner and receiver who just needs some experience.

But facing a must-win game against the Cardinals and trailing by 10 in the fourth quarter, the Buccaneers and Tom Brady turned to Fournette, giving him 29 touches for the game. He carried the ball 20 times for 72 yards, was targeted on 10 passes and caught nine times for 90 yards.

“For me, I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to make the team win and give us the ability to win,” Fournette said.

To make Fournette’s performance even better, he revealed on Monday that he has been suffering from Lisfranc’s injury, a painful midfoot ailment. He also hit back at fans who have been commenting on his weight.

“I hate when people are here just saying I’m out of shape etc,” Fournette tweeted at 10:24 a.m. Monday. “Y’all understand I play with lisfranc(sic) on my feet every week and barley(sic) can push my feet off, but by the grace of God I’m going to keep proving you all wrong.”

Heavy workloads are nothing new to Fournette. In three seasons in Jacksonville, he averaged 20 touches per game.

After being waived by the Buccaneers in 2020, Fournette struggled to accept his role as the No. 2 guard behind Ronald Jones.

He was one of the inactive players against Minnesota on Dec. 13, 2020, and was nearly released until a meeting with coach Bruce Arians led to a turnaround. Jones, who is heading into a 1,000-yard rushing season, missed the final two games of the regular season with COVID-19 and sat out the wild-card game in Washington with a quadriceps injury.

Fournette took off, rushing for 300 yards and adding 148 receiving yards in four postseason games. This earned him the nickname Lenny in the playoffs.

With this postseason in jeopardy and behind the Cardinals, the Buccaneers turned to Fournette. He got things going in the fourth quarter with a 44-yard catch-and-run that allowed White’s 3-yard touchdown catch to cut the Cardinals’ lead to a field goal.

Fournette’s performance was reminiscent of the 2020 Super Bowl 55 season.It included a 14-yard dribble in the first quarter and was named Fury Run of the Week Good morning football.

Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles praised how Fournette handled the transition to White as the team’s primary ball handler.

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“Lenny was a true pro,” Bowles said of Fournette. “He got it, he knew Rachaad [White] coming soon. He knows he has a lot to offer, too. Between the two it doesn’t matter who starts for us, what matters is who is hot in the game and then who makes the difference. “

However, Bowles was quick to add that he expected White to move forward over seven rushing attempts (36 yards).

“Lenny went a little further, so (we) struck while the iron was hot,” Powers said. “But I think Rachaad could play more games. We’re going to get better at that.”

Maybe, but if the Bucs need to secure a win in the playoffs to stay alive, Fournette proved he can still beat opponents.