The Jacksonville Jaguars are likely to re-live their saga of the past three weeks when the status of running back Leonard Fournette was in question each week. Fournette played in the team’s opening game against the New York Giants but suffered a hamstring injury in the second quarter. He proceeded to miss the team’s next two games against New England and Tennessee before returning to the starting lineup this past Sunday against the New York Jets.
But that return didn’t last long. Midway through the team’s second series, which was early in the second quarter, Fournette left the game with reported tightness in the hamstring. But he rejoined his teammates for the start of the third series midway through the quarter. However, he didn’t have any carries or receptions and was eventually replaced by backup T.J. Yeldon. At halftime, the Jaguars announced that Fournette would be out for the rest of the game.
Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone expressed his concern about the status of his top running back immediately following the Jaguars’ 31-12 win over the New York Jets at TIAA Bank Field on Sunday.
“I think so,” Marrone said. “I’d be (lying) if I said no. Anytime you come back and you’re ready to go and then all of the sudden you get injured again, it’s not a good sign.”
Fournette wasn’t available to the media after the game. On Monday, Fournette was in the Jaguars locker room but declined to talk to The Sports Xchange regarding his injured hamstring. When Marrone met with the media later in the day, he didn’t sound optimistic about Fournette’s status.
“I don’t know how long it will be. We’ll take it day-by-day,” the Jaguars coach said. “It’s the same thing. There’s a thing that is pulling at it. It is legit, there’s something there. We just have to do everything we can to get that out, whatever that thing is that feels like it catches. That’s all I know, I don’t know the doctor-talk about it. I’m trying to give you the layman’s talk. He has this thing that feels like it catches. He’s not able open up.”
Regarding the course of action for Fournette, Marrone offered the following: “We’ll try to do something better on the (preliminary), to do a little bit more of the preliminary stuff that is game-related.”
Then there was the dreaded question of how many games Marrone thought Fournette might miss before he could return to the lineup.
“I don’t know, I really don’t know,” he said. “If I knew exactly what the deal was and I could tell you (Fournette will miss) three, six, 10 (games) or IR or whatever, I would. I just don’t know. Those injuries are tough. We talk about it by position, by player and we have talked about it every other way. I thought he was looking good. You guys were out there. You saw him working. It’s different when you’re playing in a game. The game is different.”
The injury to Fournette begs the question, will the Jaguars bring in a running back? At this point, it doesn’t appear that will be the case. They have three other running backs on the roster — T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant and Brandon Wilds — though none of the three are at Fournette’s level. Yeldon is the best of the three and will be the starter for now. Grant and Wilds will back him but both have issues. Grant is small at 5-11, 203 and can’t take the physical pounding of running between the tackles on a consistent basis. Wilds has the size (6-0, 220) but is a first-year player who had minimal playing experience with the Jets (10 rushes for 27 yards in four games in 2016) and four rushes for nine yards in two games with the Jaguars this year.
Several Jaguars players said the team’s offensive attack should continue to be effective even in Fournette’s absence.
“We have great confidence in all the backs we have in the backfield. It does hurt because (Fournette is) a great player but we have great players behind him. You’ve seen that with T.J. being able to make plays, with Corey making plays. So it doesn’t change too much, it’s the next-man up approach. Again, it does hurt to have him out, but we have great confidence in those guys behind him.”
Added free safety Tashaun Gipson, “That’s tough because when theoretically you put your whole offense around a guy, you build it around a running, physical, downhill type of mentality. So when you lose that guy who’s one of the best at his position, it’s tough, it’s definitely tough. We’ve shown that we’ve been without him for theoretically three games.
“It’s just that Blake has a way of showing up when he needs to show up. If you take away the Titans game when I don’t think anyone played their best game, the offense just finds a way (to win). And they’ve been doing it since the end of last season. They’re taking opportunities of what the defenses will give them, that’s paying big dividends for us. The best defense is the defense that’s sitting on the sidelines. We did a lot of that in the first half on Sunday. I’m not too worried about.”
The victory over the Jets did enable the Jaguars to win the first quarter of their schedule, winning three of the first four games. However, only one of the first four opponents currently has a winning record (Tennessee at 3-1) and that’s the team that handed Jacksonville its only loss. The next quarter of the schedule is much tougher, starting with Sunday’s game at Kansas City. The Chiefs have a winning record while Dallas and Philadelphia are 2-2 and division nemesis Houston is 1-3. On top of that, only one of those four games will be played at TIAA Bank Field, the contest against the Texans. The Chiefs’ and Cowboys’ games are on the road while the battle against the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles will take place in London.
–C Brandon Linder suffered a back injury in Sunday’s game against the Jets and did not play in the second half. Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said Linder would not practice Wednesday (his normal day off) and would then be re-evaluated on Thursday.
–PK Josh Lambo can tie the franchise record for consecutive field goals made if he converts his next attempt. Lambo made all three of his field-goal tries against the Jets to run his streak to 19 in a row. Mike Hollis and Josh Scobee share the career mark for Jaguars kickers with 20 field goals in a row.
–QB Blake Bortles completed a career-best 11 passes to begin Sunday’s game against the Jets. He was perfect on the team’s first two series before he threw a pass away to start the third series in order to avoid taking a sack. Bortles also had a 23-yard run on a scramble against the Jets. It marked the 16th time in Bortles’ fifth season with the Jaguars that he’s had a run of at least 20 yards. He set his personal high with a run of 41 yards in the season-opener against the Giants.
–OG Andrew Norwell turned into a pass defender in Sunday’s game. Late in the second quarter, a Bortles pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage by Jets defensive end Henry Anderson. The pass went straight up with any number of Jets defenders in position to gain an interception. But as the ball came down, Norwell jumped up and batted the ball to the ground for an incompletion and thus saving Bortles from an interception.
–DE Calais Campbell and NT Marcel Dareus were both credited with stopping Jets running back Isaiah Crowell in the end zone for a safety on the Jets’ first play of the second half. It was the Jaguars’ first safety since they were awarded one on Nov. 9, 2014, when Dallas’ K. Wilber was flagged for holding in the end zone.
–WR Donte Moncrief hauled in a 67-yard touchdown pass from Blake Bortles in the third quarter of Sunday’s game against the Jets. It was the second-longest reception in his five years in the NFL, topped only by a 79-yard catch for a touchdown as a rookie in a game against Washington. Moncrief totaled 109 receiving yards in the Jets game, the fifth time in his career he’s topped the century mark.
–P Logan Cooke had three of his four punts downed inside the 20-yard line against the Jets. That gives Cooke 11 such punts this season, the most among NFL rookie punters. Cooke finished with a 46.3-yard average, including a net mark of 44.5.
–WR Dede Westbrook posted career bests of nine catches and 130 yards against the Jets. His previous best was a pair of six-reception games last year and 82 yards on four catches against New England two weeks ago. Westbrook also had his first rushing attempt of his career, gaining 11 yards on an end-around.