Throughout Sunday's NFC Divisional Round matchup vs. the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach Bruce Arians relied on both Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette to get the running game going and provide a boost for the Bucs.
The two backs finished the night with nearly identical rushing stats with Fournette carrying the ball just four more times (17) and picking up one more yard on the ground (63) compared to Jones, who ran the ball 13 times for 62 yards.
It was the first time in weeks that Jones and Fournette were able to both be on the field and have success running the ball. Jones missed games down the stretch, including the Wild Card matchup vs. the Washington Football Team, due to multiple reasons from landing on the reserve/COVID-19 list to dealing with a fractured finger and most recently a quad injury reportedly suffered in practice.
Fournette had mostly served as Tampa Bay's third-down running back throughout the season but had taken on a larger role as of late. With Fournette filling in for Jones the past month or so after Jones did most of the heavy lifting during the first three-quarters of the regular season, both running backs were ready to roll Sunday night.
Fournette, who previously played for the Jacksonville Jaguars reaching the AFC Championship during the 2017-18 season, explained to Jones how important he is to this roster and the situation they find themselves in now.
“I’m telling Ro, excuse my language, but ‘[Forget] the injury. We need you, I’m not going to lie to you – we need you.’ I’ve been in these types of games," Fournette said Sunday night. "Ro came in fresh; I came in fresh. I said, ‘Man, understand this – you don’t get many chances to make it to the playoffs [and] to have the run that we’re on right now.’ I’m a living example. We went from the AFC Championship to the next two years not even making it to the playoffs. So big congrats to Ro for fighting through the injury – a hand and a quad."
Running the ball was a key to the Bucs' win over New Orleans on Sunday and a big change from the last time these two teams faced each other. In Week 9, the Saints limited Tampa Bay to only eight yards the entire game. This time around, thanks to the combination of Jones and Fournette, the Bucs ran the ball successfully.
“It’s a great combination to have ‘Ro’ (Jones II) healthy again and then Leonard’s playing really [well]," Arians said after the game. The blocking unit did a great job of blocking those guys – the tight ends, especially. The last time we played them, our tight ends struggled with these big guys. Joe Haeg did a great job and Gronk did a great job also.”
In addition to running the ball, Fournette caught six passes for 41 yards. Add in his rushing yards and Fournnette went over 100 yards from scrimmage for the second-straight game. He finished with 107 yards from scrimmage, which is the fourth-most in franchise postseason history.
Using both Jones and Fournette in the backfield is something Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich aren't going to shy away from in the NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers.
“Yeah, that’s kind of been the plan all year," Arians said Monday when asked if he plans on using the two as a tandem. "Just trying to keep them both fresh. Getting RoJo back and getting him back in shape from the COVID and the finger [injury]. I think Leonard’s done a great job in his absence and ‘Ro’ (Jones II) really added a spark when he got in there, so it’s a good one-two punch.”