JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Leonard Fournette was sitting in his wrecked Mercedes-Benz on Interstate-295 earlier this week, waiting for the police to arrive, when he got an unusual request.
One of the first responders wanted Jacksonville’s rookie running back to sign something.
It wasn’t a hat, a jersey or a football, either. The man asked Fournette to autograph the damaged bumper off his $200,000 car.
“The bumper was on the ground and he just came out of nowhere like, `Man, can you sign this for me?’” Fournette said Thursday. “I’m like, `You want me to sign a bumper?’”
Fournette said it’s “the first and hopefully last” automotive part that garners his signature.
If the former LSU star keeps playing like he did at Pittsburgh last week, there’s no telling what he’ll be asked to sign next.
Fournette ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns against the Steelers despite re-injuring his right ankle in the first half. It was his most productive game in three months, a positive sign for the Jaguars (12-6) as they prepare for the AFC championship game at New England (14-3).
“I feel good in spite of the ankle and stuff,” Fournette said. “Just taking care of my body, but overall I feel good.”
Jacksonville’s ground game looked better than it has in weeks. The NFL’s top rushing attack stalled down the stretch , averaging 3.58 yards a carry over the final seven weeks of the regular season, and was mostly inept in a wild-card victory against Buffalo until quarterback Blake Bortles started scrambling.
Fournette’s return to form couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Collectively, as a group, I feel like everyone came to play their part,” Fournette said. “Everyone come out with it on their minds, especially from the get-go with being physical.”
Fournette averaged 4.4 yards a rush against the Steelers, finding room to run outside and turning small holes between the tackles into big gains. He scored three times, using his speed to get to the corner on one and leaping over defenders and across the goal line for another.
“We challenged these guys early,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “Just because you have success one week doesn’t mean you’re going to have success the next. It’s just one of those things where it’s on the line, on Leonard, on the group, on Blake, all the things that were going on.
“It’s about wanting to do it and understanding what you’re trying to do.”
Now the Jaguars hope to have a repeat performance against the Patriots, who ranked 20th against the run this season.
Fournette looked as healthy as he has since initially spraining his right ankle in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams in mid-October. Fournette ran for 130 yards in that game, which followed a season-high, 181-yard performance the week before at Pittsburgh.
Fournette missed three of the next eight games because of the ankle and a bruised quadriceps muscle. And in the games he did play, instead of ripping off long runs and grinding out tough yards, Fournette was slowed to a crawl.
The Jaguars were ecstatic to see him get back on track last week even though he left the game briefly to get his ankle checked out and taped up.
Concerns returned Tuesday after his fender-bender.
“You know what I always say about car accidents?” coach Doug Marrone said. “It’s one of those things. You can get into a car accident and feel pretty good, (and) two days later, you wake up and I don’t know. That hasn’t happened yet. I never put that past car accidents.”
Fournette was limited in practice this week, but insists he’ll be good to go for the game.
His car won’t be so lucky. It’s in the shop getting repaired.
“The bumper’s probably like $50,000 by itself,” Fournette said. “I don’t know what insurance they have or who they’re with, but …”