Dolphins vs. Buccaneers: Takeaways from Tampa Bay's 22-19 Win over Miami
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the only team without a win heading into Monday night's game against the Miami Dolphins, but by the time the final whistle blew, they had earned their first victory in dramatic fashion, defeating the Dolphins by a score of 22-19.
After blowing a 15-0 lead and seemingly giving away a first-half lead for the second time in two weeks, the Buccaneers charged back down the field for a game-winning touchdown run by third-string running back Bobby Rainey.
The win brings the Buccaneers to 1-8 on the year, and while it doesn't absolve the players and staff of the guilt associated with their terrible season, it provides a glimpse into what this team could do when everything goes according to plan.
So what can we learn from this game? Here are some of my takeaways from the first win of the season for the Buccaneers.
The Offensive Line Stepped Up
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had been let down by their talent-laden offensive line for much of the 2013 season. There were no running lanes and no time for quarterbacks to look through progressions and make good throws.
But on Monday night against the Dolphins, it all came together at just the right time. The men in the trenches for Tampa Bay were dominant from the very start, getting the running game going and dictating the tempo and flow of the game early.
The Bucs rushed for 140 yards on 37 carries, but that statistic is a bit misleading, as the Buccaneers ran out the clock with deliberate negative running plays to end the game.
This tweet from Tampa Bay Times beat writer Greg Auman from late in the fourth quarter reveals a more representative rushing total for the Bucs: 145 yards on 30 carries, good for 4.83 yards per carry and capped off with a game-winning touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Mike Glennon was also kept relatively clean, as the offensive line allowed only two sacks and one key pressure that turned into an interception.
But it's clear that this performance from the offensive line was inspired by a desire to win and prove to themselves and to the NFL that the Buccaneers are talented and capable of winning a game. Donald Penn told Tom Krasniqi of 620 WDAE after the game that "it's been rough these last 8 weeks," which only makes the victory more sweet.
The Running Backs Were Ready to Replace Doug Martin and Mike James
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers placed Doug Martin on injured reserve earlier in the week, as announced by Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com. But rookie Mike James looked excellent against the Seattle Seahawks and seemed ready to take over the starting job, as I wrote for Bleacher Report after that game.
But when Mike James left the game in the first quarter (with an injury reported to be a fractured ankle, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport), the Buccaneers didn't miss a beat as veteran Brian Leonard and young, unproven Bobby Rainey stepped in and performed admirably.
Leonard and Rainey combined for 102 yards on 28 carries, including a game-winning one-yard score from Rainey in the final quarter. The duo proved to be a nice pair, as Leonard was a bruising rusher to set up the quicker, smaller Rainey for big plays.
Mike James may miss a few weeks, but the Buccaneers have to have faith that their running backs are capable of being the "next man up" and moving the ball on the ground.
The Pass Rush Came Around at the Right Time
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have not been able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks using only their front four for most of the 2013 season. They have had to rely on blitzing to compensate, and that opens up their defense for easy passing plays when the blitz is picked up.
On Monday night, it was more of the same for most of the game, as Ryan Tannehill had plenty of time to throw. But on the final drive of the game, when the Dolphins had a chance to tie the game or secure a victory, the pass rush stepped up and earned a victory.
A blitz from Mark Barron earned the Buccaneers their first sack on the two-minute-drill drive for Miami, and on the very next play, Gerald McCoy dominated his blocker and got to the Miami quarterback for another sack.
The Bucs would put pressure on Tannehill on third and fourth down as well and force a turnover to clinch the game.
This level of pass rush is what the Buccaneers need to remain competitive, and it's still somewhat discouraging to see the team fail to generate consistent pressure against a lacking offensive line for Miami.
The Run Defense Was Dominant
The Buccaneers allowed some big plays in the passing game, but they were able to keep Miami one-dimensional by stifling its attempts to get the running game going.
The Miami Dolphins rushed for only two total yards in the game, which is the lowest total in franchise history, according to ESPN's Twitter account.
Tampa Bay dominated in the trenches and gashed through Miami's shambolic offensive line for big stops and key plays, including a safety you can watch in GIF form here, thanks to the Bleacher Report social-media staff.
Holding an NFL franchise to two rushing yards on 14 carries is an accomplishment to be proud of for the Buccaneers, and it's a key reason why they were able to secure their first victory.
Revis Island Is Back
Darrelle Revis might not be used "the right way" every week by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it's clear that he's still the best corner in the NFL, and he made a huge impact on Monday's game.
Mike Wallace was held to four catches for 15 yards for the game, while Revis made multiple key tackles and a victory-sealing interception on 4th-and-long for the Buccaneers. He is still recovering from an ACL injury suffered in 2012, but it's a night like Monday night when NFL fans can catch a glimpse of what Darrelle Revis can do.
The Dolphins were able to throw the ball well to receivers covered by other corners, but they could not get Wallace involved at all. Revis did what he was brought to Tampa to do, and it helped the Buccaneers earn a win for the first time with the All-Pro corner in red and pewter.
Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy Are Superstars
Sometimes it's easy to lose track of the great players on losing teams in the NFL. But make no mistake about it, Darrelle Revis is not the only superstar on the Tampa Bay defense.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David are both among the best at their positions and are true impact players who make a difference every week.
McCoy showed excellent awareness as he predicted the snap count all night against the Dolphins, drawing praise from ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, who noticed his ability to get off the ball quickly and get up the field.
David had an excellent game, including picking up the safety pictured above. He drew praise from Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, who reminded his Twitter followers that there is more to Lavonte David than just the personal foul he committed earlier in the season against the New York Jets.
McCoy and David are both young stars who will be key components of the Tampa Bay defense for years to come. And on national television, they both put on a show to let the nation see the talent this Tampa Bay defense possesses.
Mental Mistakes Almost Cost the Buccaneers
The Buccaneers were not without their usual mistakes, and they almost lost the game due to lapses in judgement.
A penalty by Dashon Goldson in the first half helped move the Dolphins into scoring position for their first points of the game. Goldson was too emotional and headbutted an opponent after a short completion.
Later in the game, punt returner Eric Page made an unneeded hit against a Miami special teams player and earned a penalty that set the Buccaneers back. The Bucs were able to recover and earn back the field position lost, but it was a silly foul to commit.
And finally, as the Buccaneers were trying to run out the clock, Mike Glennon scrambled out of bounds on third down to stop the clock and give the ball back to Miami with plenty of time left to score.
The Buccaneers won and overcame these mistakes, but there's still plenty of cause for concern for the team from Tampa Bay.
Greg Schiano Proved He Hasn't Lost the Locker Room
According to Michael Silver of NFL.com, Greg Schiano is one of the NFL coaches on the "hot seat," as his winless record heading into Monday's game was unacceptable and could lead to him losing his job.
But Silver also pointed out that Schiano would likely keep his job unless losses became lopsided or there was open dissent from the locker room.
Monday proved that Schiano still has the locker room and still has a competitive team.
There were questionable decisions and poor plays called over the course of the game, but there was consistent effort from the Buccaneers, which indicated a trust and belief in their leader on the sidelines.
In a postgame interview with ESPN, Vincent Jackson quoted Greg Schiano as telling his team to play "one game at a time." It's clear that Schiano still has the eyes and ears of his players, and he earned a deserved win on Monday night by shutting down the Miami running game and getting his own rushing attack going despite multiple injuries.