It took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 weeks to earn victory No. 1. It took them six days to take No. 2.
This was a complete effort, one that would have seemed unfathomable 14 days ago, before beating the Miami Dolphins last Monday. Offense and defense, even special teams, dominated the depleted Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
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Is a star born in running back Bobby Rainey? He ran for 163 yards on 30 carries with two touchdowns, becoming the biggest surprise on a day of highlights for the 2-8 Bucs.
Here are some thoughts and observations from the Bucs’ 41-28 victory …
1. This time, the Bucs made Matt Ryan’s life miserable.
One of the large reasons why the Falcons won at less than full strength in the first meeting between these teams was a lack of pass rush from the Bucs’ defensive line.
Things were more than a tad different Sunday. Gerald McCoy looked like a man possessed in earning three sacks, all in the first half.
The pressure also resulted in points: Dekoda Watson’s pursuit from the edge allowed Mason Foster to intercept a Ryan pass and return it 37 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, giving Tampa Bay a 17-3 lead.
Can this continue in future weeks? The Bucs will need the boost with tough matchups against the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers ahead. Sunday looked like a promising sign, though.
2. The Bucs did a fair job on Roddy White and Steven Jackson.
Neither appeared in the first matchup between these division rivals, so it was an unknown how either would affect the result.
By far, Jackson was the more effective of the two. He’s past his prime, but the veteran running back finished with 41 yards on 11 carries. White was matched against Revis most of the afternoon, so he was limited to 36 yards on three catches.
Atlanta looks like a shell of the team that was so close to the Super Bowl last season. How did it all go south so fast? Picking between a pair of 2-8 teams is like selecting from two rotten apples, but the Bucs are better now.
3. I was skeptical that the Bucs would be able to sustain their recent rushing success without Mike James.
James, only a rookie, had established himself as an agile, aware runner before he fractured his left ankle early in the victory over the Miami Dolphins on Monday at Raymond James Stadium. His loss was significant after the Bucs did the right thing by placing Doug Martin on injured reserve.
But the performance of Brian Leonard and Bobby Rainey, in particular, was promising. Throughout the week, coach Greg Schiano said the Bucs would use the duo in a diverse way, and it showed. The strategy was clear from the first quarter, when the two combined for 60 yards on 10 carries (44 came from Rainey).
Rainey has a little Darren Sproles in him when he hits a hole. Watch him and try not to think of the New Orleans Saints’ tailback. It showed often on Rainey’s big afternoon.
Good move by the Bucs to pick him up.
4. Gerald McCoy’s play deserves its own mention.
This was his best solo effort of the season, and it’s good sign for the Bucs to see big No. 93 break through in what has been a frustrating year for him.
Clearly, he’s most effective when he’s allowed to be a straight-ahead rusher. For whatever reason, the Bucs have used too many stunts in their defensive game plan this fall. McCoy’s frustration was aired publicly a few times, but it was obvious Bucs coaches allowed the Pro Bowl talent to play to his strengths Sunday.
Why did it take until 0-7 for the Bucs to play loose? Since the game in Seattle, it appears Tampa Bay has re-examined how they does things, from approach to personnel strategy, etc. McCoy’s pursuit Sunday was another example of the development.
5. Hard to believe, but this marks the Bucs’ first consecutive victory since winning four straight from Oct. 25-Nov. 18 last season.
Remember all the messes that have happened since then? The five losses in six games to close last season? The eight defeats to begin this year? The Josh Freeman divorce and MRSA issues?
Simply, this was Tampa Bay’s most complete effort of the season. It was a long time coming, and the result was needed with stiff road tests coming against the Lions and Panthers the next two weeks.
How many more games do you see the Bucs winning? Detroit and Carolina look like losses, but the Buffalo Bills and St. Louis Rams appear beatable. Perhaps the Saints will have little to play for in Week 17 and the Bucs will sneak one out on the road to close the regular season.
At least there’s hope in the season’s second half. That’s more than you could say for the first.