'Payoff Lenny' Fournette continues to produce and reward Tom Brady's vouch

·4 min read

If the GOAT calls, you answer.

And if the GOAT wants you to join his team, you sign.

Chances are it will all work out if you do.

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Exhibit A: running back Leonard Fournette, who had a career-high four touchdowns in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 38-31 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Fournette continues to enjoy a career renaissance with the Buccaneers, after the fourth overall pick in 2017 looked like a bust and was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars during training camp last year.

Fournette has said in the past that one of the first calls he received after being cut was from Tom Brady — and added he was shocked to hear from the superstar quarterback. Brady reaching out certainly sweetened things, but going to Tampa Bay also seemed like a good landing spot for Fournette, and it's worked out.

Still just 26 years old, Fournette gave Tampa Bay the road win with his 28-yard touchdown in the closing minute of the fourth quarter, running to his left and into the gap opened by right guard Alex Cappa and tight end Rob Gronkowski.

The score gave him an even 100 rushing yards on just 17 carries. He added seven catches for 31 yards.

Sunday was just the continuation of Fournette's revival, which began with Brady calling him not long after he was released by Jacksonville on Aug. 31, 2020. Though he had limited touches last regular season, he answered the call when the Bucs needed him in the playoffs, with four touchdowns in the team's four postseason games. That earned him the nickname "Playoff Lenny."

Against Kansas City in Super Bowl LV, he totaled 135 yards from scrimmage. That earned him another nickname from teammates: "Lombardi Lenny."

He gets a lot of those nicknames. May we suggest another? "Payoff Lenny." With Fournette now just shy of 1,000 yards from scrimmage this season with six games to play, Brady's call to his fellow Under Armour spokesman to join him on the Gulf Coast keeps paying off.

Leonard Fournette (7) scored four touchdowns in a win over the Colts, and has the Bucs eyeing another playoff run. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)
Leonard Fournette (7) scored four touchdowns in a win over the Colts, and has the Bucs eyeing another playoff run. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

And he's not the only one who answered Brady's call who continues to come up big. Gronkowski, whom Brady lured out of retirement last year, had 123 yards on seven catches, his highest yardage output since the 2018 regular-season opener.

Though he was the centerpiece of their offense in years prior, Fournette was cut loose by the Jaguars after the team couldn't trade him and reports emerged that he was showing up late to team meetings. Whatever issues he may have had with Jacksonville — and remember, he wasn't the only one — didn't make the trip with him down I-75 to Tampa.

On Sunday, he gave a halftime speech, hoping to fire up his team after a lackluster first half.

"I'm like man, you have to have a will and a want. You have to be willing to risk everything, play by play, you have to want to win, want to fight, each and every play. I think they understood that message and came out and played their lights out," he recounted to media.

Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich inserted Ronald Jones into the game in the second half, giving Fournette a break, and Jones scored late in the third quarter. Fournette said the rotation helped him when the game was on the line.

"I think Coach B did an excellent job of rotating the backs; I was fresh at the end. RoJo came in and did his job," he said of Jones. "As a unit, it's all about winning, no matter what it takes."

He likely wasn't complaining too much, but Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said after the game he wished Fournette had run out of bounds before the goal line on his final touchdown, which would have allowed Tampa Bay to kill clock and kick an easy field goal. When Fournette scored there were 20 seconds left in regulation, which isn't a lot of time. But with Isaiah Rodgers returning the ensuing kickoff 72 yards to the Bucs' 32, the game got a little uncomfortable for Tampa Bay in an instant.

Once Pierre Desir picked off Carson Wentz's Hail Mary attempt, any crisis was averted.

Now 8-3 and in command of the NFC South, Tampa Bay might be wise to keep one stat in mind: When Fournette gets at least 12 carries, the team is 11-0.

Payoff Lenny to Playoff Lenny to the return of Lombardi Lenny in L.A.? Fournette may help them get there again.