Bucs handle Falcons for second straight win
This is how it was supposed to look for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The running back churning out one big gain after another. The quarterback picking up chunks of yards with deep throws to his receivers. The defense taking the quarterback down and the ball away. It's a shame it took more than two months of turmoil and a cast of a replacements for the Bucs to finally put all that together in one tight, 60-minute package, but no one was complaining about that on Sunday.
No one was complaining, because what the Bucs did in beating the Atlanta Falcons 41-28 at Raymond James Stadium was prove they really do have all of that in them — and maybe even a little more. “We were the total package today,'' Bucs right guard Davin Joseph said.
Joseph wasn't just talking about the offense, which got a 163-yard rushing day out of fourth-string running back Bobby Rainey and another two-touchdown passing day out of rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. He was also talking about the defense, which got a three-sack day out Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and an interception return for a touchdown from middle linebacker Mason Foster, his second of the season. He was also talking about special teams, which recovered an onside kick, attempted a fake field goal and blocked a punt to set up the last of Tampa Bay's season-high five touchdowns.
And, finally, he was talking about the sheer entertainment value of a Bucs attack that included a halfback pass and two long tosses to wideout Vincent Jackson, who made a leaping one-handed grab of the first. “Yeah, it was fun out there today,'' left tackle Donald Penn said. “We got stuff rolling today. It obviously took us eight games to get all the kinks out, but we're playing some pretty good football right now.''
It's hard to argue with Penn's claim. Since blowing a 21-point lead in an overtime loss at Seattle three weeks ago to fall to 0-8, the Bucs have won two straight for the first time since November 2012. Oddly, they owe much of their sudden success to Rainey, the little-known (even to his teammates) former Western Kentucky standout the Bucs picked up off the street a few weeks ago after he was released by the Cleveland Browns.
After running eight times for 45 yards and the winning touchdown against Miami on Nov. 11, Rainey scored three times against the Falcons on runs of 43 and 3 yards and a reception of 4 yards. Rainey even attempted a pass, taking a direct snap and rolling to his left on a first-and-10 play from the Atlanta 23-yard line that produced nothing more than a brief thrill when Jackson, his intended target, proved too well covered.
“I had no idea who he was when we got him, but he picked up the offense real fast and when he's gotten the call he's really shown what he can do,'' Penn said. “But that's what you have to do in this league because you never know if you're going to get that call again.''
Rainey isn't the only young Buccaneer making the most of his unexpected opportunity. Glennon, a third-round draft pick out of North Carolina State, is doing the same. Glennon completed 20 of 23 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns, producing a career-best and Bucs rookie-record passer rating of 137.5. After completing only six of 20 attempts of more than 21 yards this season, he connected with Jackson downfield for completions of 47 yards and 53 yards. The touchdown pass to Jackson was a 3-yard fade into the end zone.
Glennon had been struggling with the long ball, completing only six of the 20 passes of more than 21 yards he'd thrown this year, but Jackson helped him improve that mark with his two acrobatic catches. “Yeah, this is two times in a row now against Atlanta that I've just thrown it up there and he's made a play on it,'' Glennon said referring to the one-handed grab, which was similar to one Jackson made on a 59-yard pass in the first meeting of the two teams. “Really, that was all just him. “He's a tremendous player and all I'm trying to do is just give him a chance,” Glennon said. “And he made a play on the two deep balls and then again on the touchdown pass.''
While Jackson, Glennon and Rainey made big plays on offense, McCoy made them on defense, sacking Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on back-to-back plays in the first series and once more in the second quarter. The three sacks were a single-game career high for McCoy, one shy of the team record of four held by Simeon Rice and Marcus Jones.
McCoy leads the team with six sacks this season. “The best part of that was that the first two came right off the jump,'' Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “That, to me, was critical, because that really set the tone for the game right there. You could see that.''
The Bucs hit Falcons quarterbacks eight times, including once when linebacker Dekoda Watson affected a Ryan throw that was intercepted by Foster and returned 37 yards for a touchdown. Foster's touchdown came six plays after the Bucs recovered an onside kick and one play after they tried to salvage something from that possession by faking a field goal. After lining up for a 52-yard attempt on fourth-and-9, kicker Rian Lindell split out to the slot receiver spot while holder Mike Koenen took the snap and tried to throw to running back Brian Leonard. “We thought we had some things we could do,'' Schiano said of the trickery on special teams. “The onside kick was tremendous. I guess we got a little greedy there with the fake.''
The Bucs had good reason to get greedy. The Bucs, Joseph said, felt like they were starting to take control of the game at that point. After they closed out the Falcons, a new feeling began to spread through the locker room. “It was tough here for a while, what with the whole Josh Freeman thing and guys getting hurt, but through all of that Coach Schiano was like, “Forget that, get your pads on and keep working,' '' Joseph said. “And now we're finally getting a sense to where the guys in this locker room really do believe him and believe in him. And I can say now that this is first time I can say that we're a family now.
“He's been preaching that since he walked in the door and sometimes you don't know where they're coming from with that. ... It was family, family, family and it makes sense now. I can say we really are like a family now because guys really trust him, guys really believe in him because all that stuff he's been saying about just keep your head down and keep working, it's all coming true now.''