The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' slide toward a 0-16 season ended as poetically as it possibly could—with a Darrelle Revis interception.
Revis' pick capped off a winning Monday Night Football performance that both validated and condemned Bucs head coach Greg Schiano.
Revis, the elite defender for whom Schiano and the Bucs paid dearly, finally came through in the 22-19 victory. Third-round rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, in favor of whom Schiano released starter Josh Freeman, flashed more potential. Gerald McCoy, franchise defensive tackle, proved again he can take over a game when it counts.
For Greg Schiano, none of it matters. By Tuesday's morning light, the feel-good story of the Bucs having won a game will revert to the horror story of the Bucs having won one game. Schiano's fate is sealed. Even if the Bucs win out (and they won't), 8-8 is simply not good enough for a team that paid through the nose to acquire win-now talent.
The good news for whoever the Bucs' next head coach is: He'll have the talent to win "now."
Setting the Tone
On the opening drive, the Bucs showed they can do everything a successful team needs to do. Mike James gashed the Dolphins for 41 yards. Glennon completed 3-of-4 passing for 30 yards and this Donald Penn touchdown:
Unfortunately, James, already in as a backup for starting tailback Doug Martin, fractured his ankle after the game-opening drive, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. No matter—the Bucs offensive line was on a mission, and Power O runs up the gut of the Miami Dolphins defense were working all night.
Unheralded running backs Brian Leonard and Bobby Rainey combined for 102 punishing yards on 28 carries, keeping the chains moving and the clock rolling. In total, the Bucs RBs rolled up the Dolphins for 143 rushing yards on 33 carries—4.33 yards per carry.
Glennon and Leonard kept the pressure on in the second drive, taking advantage of a short field. Glennon found do-everything No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson for a 14-yard pass, and Leonard cracked off a 14-yard run. When Bucs kicker Rian Lindell hit the 24-yard chip-shot field goal, the Bucs' 10-0 lead felt midway through the first felt insurmountable.
Holding the Line
Of course, the game didn't end in the first quarter. One minute into the second quarter, the Bucs stuffed Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas in his own end zone, pushing the Bucs lead out to 12-0, and reinforcing the idea that the winless Bucs had this one won at the coin toss.
Glennon and his tailbacks did it again, putting together an eight-play, 41-yard drive that ended in another field goal. At 15-0, the game felt over.
Right before halftime, though, Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill found receiver Rishard Matthews for a score. Matthews had a banner day against the Bucs defense, racking up 11 catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns. But he's the only Dolphin who can look back on his day at the office and feel good about it.
The Bucs defense completely erased the Dolphins running game, holding them to two total yards on 14 carries. That's not a typo: TWO rushing yards on 14 carries.
Passing-wise, Tannehill was limited to just 229 yards on 42 attempts, for an average of just 5.45 yards per attempt. Tannehill threw the two touchdowns to Matthews, but also threw that game-ending pick. Tannehill was also sacked twice, both on the Dolphins' critical final drive.
The best possible news for the Bucs? Who put Tannehill down.
The first sack was split by 2011 third-round pick Mason Foster and rookie fourth-rounder William Gholston—two talented defenders who'll be huge for the Bucs if they keep producing at key moments.
Then, on 2nd-and-18, McCoy came roaring through the line and sacked Tannehill again. With a captain's "C" emblazoned on his chest, McCoy put Tannehill and the Dolphins into a futile 3rd-and-28. That became the 4th-and-28 lame duck that Revis picked off, sealing the win.
Clearly, the Buccaneers have the talent up front and in the secondary to be one of the NFL's best defenses.
Glennon finished with 11-of-21 passing for 139 yards and a score, which are hardly stunning numbers, plus an interception thrown in the face of an intense third-down blitz. He's unmistakably a rookie, but Glennon flashed a strong arm, surprising athleticism and precocious confidence in both.
Given the way the Bucs were running it, though, Glennon didn't have to be a world-beater to top the Dolphins. Even scraping the bottom of the depth chart for runners, the Bucs never lost their power-run identity—or sight of their win-or-bust goal.
Now that the Bucs have finally put a tally on the "W" side of the ledger, the winless curse has been broken. Full credit should go to Schiano, his staff and his players for keeping the faith and coming to play.
That having been said, 1-8 is a miserable failure given the talent Schiano has on both sides of the ball, and the heart these players are still playing with. Even with all the distractions, the cutting of the supposed franchise quarterback in the middle of the season and their name being dragged through the mud, the Bucs still played with heart and pride.
All the better to make whoever coaches the Bucs in 2014 look like a genius.