Buccaneers’ to start RB Ronald Jones vs. Falcons after Week 1 benching

Sept. 15 (UPI) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will start Ronald Jones at running back in Week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons, coach Bruce Arians said. Jones fumbled in the second quarter in Week 1 and was benched for the rest of the game.

“The biggest thing is turnovers — just protect the ball better,” Arians told reporters Tuesday. “If we don’t turn the ball over in that game, it’s not that close. Correct the turnovers, play a little better in space and tackle a little better.”

The Buccaneers beat the Dallas Cowboys 31-29 in the first game of the 2021 NFL season Thursday in Tampa, Fla. Jones is listed as the top running back on the Buccaneers depth chart, but Leonard Fournette received the first carry in the victory.

Jones lost his fumble on his sixth snap and did not return. Fournette played a total of 42 snaps in the victory. Fellow running back Giovani Bernard played 17 snaps. Jones totaled 14 yards on four carries.

Fournette ran for 32 yards on nine carries and made five catches for 27 yards. He also contributed to a turnover when he let a Tom Brady throw bounce off his hands in the second quarter. The deflected pass was intercepted by Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs.

“Ro [Jones] was running really, really well until the fumble, and then he struggled mentally to get over it,” Arians told reporters Friday. “That was too big of a game and go out there and not be focused, so Lenny got the rest of the way.”

Jones did not speak to reporters after the Week 1 win, but responded to a critic Saturday on his Facebook page.

“I’m always ready to go when my number is called,” Jones wrote.

Jones led the Buccaneers with 978 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns in 14 games last season. He started 13 regular-season games in 2020 for the defending Super Bowl champions.

Fournette totaled 367 yards in 13 games last season. Jones lost two fumbles, while Fournette did not fumble in 2020.

“I’m not worried about ‘Ro’ at all,” Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich told reporters. “We’ll continue getting ‘Ro’ the ball and letting ‘Ro’ be ‘Ro.’ ‘Ro’ is real special running the ball and unique.

“We understand the talent that he has. It’s never perfect in football. The game doesn’t go that way. Football doesn’t allow it to be perfect. Football also helps in life lessons. It gets tough sometimes and sometimes it’s better for you, but throughout a 17-game season that’s just how it goes.”

The Buccaneers host the Falcons at 4:05 p.m. EDT Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The Falcons allowed 113 yards from scrimmage on 19 touches to Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders in Week 1.

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