CHICAGO — The Bucs went into their Thursday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears thin at running back.
They had just two truly healthy backs at game time — starter Ronald Jones and rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Veteran Leonard Fournette dressed but was only to be used in an emergency, and LeSean McCoy was out with an ankle injury.
How thin were the Bucs? Linebacker Devin White took some snaps at running back this week in walkthroughs.
Because of a short week, and the time it takes for a player to pass COVID-19 protocols, the Bucs couldn’t bring in an outside player.
While the Bucs' running back formula has been by committee, Jones carried the load in the Bucs' 20-19 loss to the Bears, posting his second straight 100-yard game.
“He played great,” Bucs quarterback Tom Brady said. “Explosive runs, ran hard and took care of the football. He’s a great runner and he is doing a great job for us. It was a short week and we knew there were some contingencies. We were hoping some other guys got healthy, but that just wasn’t the case. He played really hard and great.”
At one point, after Vaughn left the game with a chest injury after taking a hard hit in the second quarter, Jones was the only healthy running back.
He was RB1, and after him, there was RB none.
Jones ran for 106 yards on 17 carries, posting a career-best 6.2-yard average against the Bears.
After an offseason of uncertainty over who would carry the rushing load, and coach Bruce Arians' conviction in using all four, Jones has taken advantage of his opportunity.
In the first half, he was the Bucs' best offensive weapon, hitting the holes with authority, running through the first wave of tacklers and building yards after contact.
This was the best Jones we’ve seen, but he was disappointed the performance came in a losing effort.
“The O-line did a great job again of getting push, making my job, making the reads easy,” Jones said. “We’ve just got to score more points in the red zone, get more points overall.”
Jones' 37-yard run that opened up the Bucs' initial second-half drive was the team’s longest gain of the night and set up a go-ahead field goal.
“RoJo’s had a good season, and he’s going to continue to get better,” Arians said.
A week ago he ran for a career-high 111 yards on 20 carries in the Bucs' comeback win over the Chargers. Down the stretch Thursday, the Bucs needed more Jones, and more help on offense, and fewer penalties.
The Bucs had the opportunity to extend a 19-17 lead late in the fourth quarter, but went three and out as the Bears defense clearly honed in on stopping Jones.
On that drive, Jones was stuffed for a 2-yard loss on first down, then couldn’t come up with a pass over the middle on second down.
“That one definitely hurt because that was the time to put them away,” Jones said. “We’ve got to execute better.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.