There's nothing like winning to bring hope for a struggling team.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened the season with eight consecutive losses, but woke up Tuesday feeling better about themselves and the direction of what's been a disappointing season.
The Bucs (1-8) became the last NFL team to win with a 22-19 victory over the embattled Miami Dolphins on Monday night, and coach Greg Schiano believes his players have the mettle to build on that success.
"The thing you feel good about is our guys are learning through this adversity, not just trying to get through it," Schiano said Tuesday.
Rookie Mike Glennon led a long fourth-quarter touchdown drive to put Tampa Bay ahead for good, and a defense that was unable to protect late leads in four of the club's eight losses limited the Dolphins to 2 yards rushing. The Tampa Bay defense eliminated any chance for a Miami comeback with two timely sacks and an interception within a span of four plays to close out the win.
After losing four times in the final 89 seconds or regulation or overtime,
"We knew it was going to be on us. Everybody stepped up," said linebacker Lavonte David, who had seven tackles, one of them dropping Miami's Daniel Thomas for a second-quarter safety.
Even Schiano said Monday night had a familiar feel after the Dolphins rallied from a 15-point deficit to take a 19-15 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Bucs have lost four times in the final 89 seconds of regulation and overtime, including the previous week when they squandered a 21-point lead before falling in OT at Seattle.
This time, Glennon regained the lead with an 80-yard drive that running back Bobby Rainey finished with a 1-yard run, and the defense put it away.
"I don't care who you were in that stadium, there was part of you that said: 'Oh no, again?' Schiano said.
"And for our players to bow their necks, especially that (long TD) drive ... and then getting back and playing defense that last set to win the game was important," Schiano added, "because when we took the field, it was very clear: you stop them, you win."
David was determined the defense would not crumble.
"Right at the two-minute warning, I came in, brung the guys in and said: 'It ain't going to happen again, man," David said. "We've got to make all this stuff end right here, right now.' That's what happened."
Schiano said now that the Bucs have won, players should be able to relax and perform without pressing for results.
"Hopefully that kind of relieves some pressure off the guys and they can just go out and play," the second-year coach said.
"Getting it out of the way, I don't care who you are, as the losses mount getting that (first) one win becomes harder and harder (to get)," Schiano added. "I hope now that our guys can just go out and play. Although they've said there's no additional pressure, I think human nature puts that pressure on yourself."
One of the keys to beating Miami, which was playing its first game since the start of a bullying scandal that's engulfed the Dolphins locker room, was a productive running game that took pressure off Glennon, who completed 11 of 21 passes for 139 yards, one touchdown and an interception.
With 2012 Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin out for the season with a shoulder injury, Mike James made his third pro start. The rookie ran for 158 yards the previous week against the Seahawks and was off to another fast start with 41 yards on five carries when he broke his left ankle in the first quarter.
Despite losing James, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan remained committed to the run with Rainey and Brian Leonard combining for 102 yards on 28 carries.
Tampa Bay finished with 140 yards on the ground after gaining a season-high 205 against the Seahawks.
"Our offensive line, the credit goes to them — persistent, believing what they're doing, and the running backs running the plays the way they're supposed to," Schiano said.
"We're banged up, playing without a lot of the original starters, but again there are still a lot of good players out there playing," the coach added. "We're going to have a chance to win every football game. We've just got to go out and execute."
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