Jags rookie running back Leonard Fournette finished yesterday’s win against the Steelers with 181 rushing yards on 28 carries. Those look like stats belonging to a running back who dominated the whole game, but that’s not quite what happened. Instead, Fournette gave the Steelers three quarters of hope before tearing their hearts out.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Fournette carried the ball and was stuffed at his own five-yard line for a one-yard gain. That was his 16th carry of the game, and to that point he’d gained 43 yards on the ground. The Jags were up 20-9 and needed a long drive to stop Ben Roethlisberger from getting the chance to pull off a late comeback. The Steelers’ offense had been absolute piss up to that point, but it was easy to see how the game might go all wrong for the Jags: A three-and-out from deep in their own territory; a suddenly locked-in Roethlisberger leads a touchdown drive; another three-and-out for the Jags; another heroic drive from Roethlisberger to win it at the death.
Blake Bortles, who finished the game with eight completions for 95 yards, wasn’t going to be any help preventing that nightmare scenario from unfolding. And so the Jags put the game into Fournette’s hands.
After that one-yard gain to start the quarter, Fournette took another handoff against an eight-man front and gained 13 yards. He got the ball on the next play, and went straight through the middle for 11 yards. He got stuffed again for a one-yard gain on the next play, then took a two-play breather. When he got back on the field, he did this:
That’s Fournette calling for Steelers safety Mike Mitchell, whom he’d been crashing into all day, to come get some at the end of a 12-yard gain. Mitchell obliged, but Fournette’s message was clear: he was in control, and the Jags weren’t losing this game.
The Jags ended up taking over eight minutes off the clock with a 13-play drive, ending it with a field goal. Roethlisberger got the ball back with just 6:43 left to play threw his fourth pick of the game. He got another chance after the Jags went three-and-out, only to throw yet one more pick. Then, with just under two minutes left to play, Fournette put the game away:
This wasn’t the greatest running back performance you’ll ever see, but it was evidence that the Jags might finally have something they’ve been without for years now: a star player worth leaning on. The 90-yard touchdown run was a nice finale, but it was those carries on the Jags’ first drive of the fourth quarter that won the game. The Steelers had Jacksonville pinned and knew Fournette was coming. Not only did the rookie meet them head on, he gloated while he did it.