The Jacksonville Jaguars might have never even gone to overtime had they made a little more use of rookie running back Leonard Fournette during regulation on Sunday, but we’ll get to that later.
For now we want to focus on the moments just before that overtime session in what proved to be a 23-20 loss to the Jets because that’s when Fournette took a big step forward in his development.
Gathering the team together in the moments before the extra-session kickoff, Fournette thrust himself into a leadership role for what was arguably the first time and he hit all the right notes in doing so.
“My message to the team was, ‘Don’t give up,’’’ Fournette said. “I mean, my hope, as you all can tell, is that this is going to be a different Jaguars team. That we’re going to fight back no matter what.
“And that was my biggest message to everybody. We kind of gave them the game today. They capitalized on our mistakes and miscommunication. And as a team, we have to take that loss as a group and we have to come back next week and continue fighting.’’
There’s obviously a lot of fight in Fournette. He shows it in how he runs, how he plays every down. That said, it’s hard for a young player even of his ilk to take on a leadership role so soon in his tenure.
Even young quarterbacks such as Jameis Winton of the Buccaneers have talked about the need to wait for just the right moment or opportunity to put on that leadership hat and take control of a team.
The moment seemed right for Fournette on Sunday and he took advantage. Good for him, because he probably earned some respect from the Jaguars veterans for it and well he should have.
The Jaguars are a team teeming with talent. What they lack is leadership and chemistry within the locker room, but it seems there’s a little more of that now that Fournette has stepped up.
The only downside is that his speech didn’t inspire a victory. Had it, his impassioned moment might have become the stuff of legend. And it might have had the Jagaurs made a little better use of their young back.
Fournette had a busy day Sunday, running the ball 24 times and catching it four more. It could have been and probably should have been an even busier day for the rookie first-round draft pick.
For example, during their last drive of regulation, after Fournette gained 9 yards on first down, 3 more on second down and caught a 23-yard touchdown pass that was nullified by a penalty, but, then, the Jaguars ignored him.
Fournette didn’t touch the ball again in regulation as the Jaguars settled for the 22-yard Jason Myers field goal that sent the game to overtime, where Fournette’s role was again a rather curious one.
Fournette was given the ball on the first two plays of the Jaguars first series, on the first play of the second and again on the first two plays of the third, but he never touched it after those early downs in any of them.
The Jaguars turned to other weapons in those instances, clearly choosing not to put the ball in the hands of their best weapon at the most critical time of the game.
When asked about those decisions, coach Doug Marrone said he was trying to keep Fournette “fresh.’’ For what is hard to know, but we do know this: Fournette handled it like a pro.
“I don’t really get into that,” Fournette said. “That’s the coach’s decision. I have to live with the decisions they make. It’s not my team.’’
That’s where Fournette is wrong, because it is his team. And after what he did on Sunday before the start of overtime, its’ more his now than ever before.