The Tampa Bay Buccaneers secured their first victory of 2013 on Monday night against the Miami Dolphins, but it came at a price. Rookie running back Mike James, the team's new starter in the backfield after Doug Martin's season-ending shoulder injury, fractured an ankle on the opening drive and did not return to the game. On Monday, Head Coach Greg Schiano confirmed that James' injury would end his season.
James gained 41 yards on eight carries on the drive before he was hurt, helping the Bucs finish with 140 rushing yards overall. That followed a 205-yard ground effort in Seattle the previous weekend, which helped the Bucs push the NFC's top team to overtime. The Bucs have obviously rededicated themselves to the ground game, with good results, but it's fair to wonder if James' injury on the heels of Martin's departure will make it difficult for that trend to continue.
"Some would say yes, but I have faith in our offensive line and I think Bobby Rainey showed that he's a good running back and Brian Leonard is a good running back," said Head Coach Greg Schiano on Tuesday. "So, it may not be where one guy's getting all the carries, or a lion's share of the carries; I think we're going to have to mix it up a little bit.
"Brian's a 30-year-old running back; even though he hasn't had a ton of carries, he's still 30 years old, so you're not going to wear him out. And Bobby's a guy that I think – he's got a certain feel about him that it wasn't too big for him last night. Our guys even remember him when he was at Baltimore in the preseason, so I think he's going to be fine. That's who we're built to be, that's who we're going to be." The future of the Bucs' rushing attack wasn't the only topic Schiano discussed on Tuesday. Below are the rest of his post-practice thoughts, including updates on several injured players.
"We talked about it last night, [running back] Mike [James] is going to be done. He fractured that ankle. I was proud of our guys, I said last night, the character and resolve that they showed – at the beginning of the game everything was going our way, then the last drive [we] have a penalty then they score a touchdown. Then the third quarter wasn't very good – again, two holding penalties that kind of stifled drives. The guys battled through that and we get to the fourth quarter and have a great drive that is who we are – run it, play action, throw down the field and finish it. That was a real important drive, we answered the bell there. Then obviously, at the end, defensively, making the big stop. I think the thing that I feel good about is that our guys are learning through this adversity not just trying to get through it. You see a guy like [defensive tackle] Akeem Spence get slugged in the head and [he] walks away from it. That's a rookie who's learning. Instead of it being third-and-one, it's third-and-16. I think we have to just continue to do that and learn through the troubles we're having and still be able to win games while you're learning. That's what our goal is moving forward."
(On the team's struggles in the third quarter and how the players responded)
"You don't want to have to have that bad quarter. A lot of it was self-inflicted. Again, we're running the ball consistently through the evening and then – even on those plays we're running ok – and we get two holding penalties. Now, some may argue there were or there weren't penalties, but as I tell the team, if the flag is thrown, it's a penalty, regardless of if we did it or not. It's marked off. I think when you look at last night, our Pro Bowl players, [linebacker] Lavonte David – who I believe is playing as well as any linebacker in the league – [cornerback] Darrelle [Revis], [defensive tackle] Gerald [McCoy], [safety] Mark Barron, those guys, on a big stage, showed up and played at a high level. But I think as important is guys that maybe people weren't expecting,, like [offensive lineman] Jamon Meredith, [running back] Brian Leonard – who wasn't even here before the beginning of the spring – [tight end] Timmy Wright, [safety Keith] Tandy, guys that I just think about that stepped up – obviously [running back Bobby] Rainey – those guys have stepped up. "
(On how the adversity the team has faced has prepared them)
"I think each guy is different. I think certain guys have been through things in life that have prepared them better than others and some are going through them here. But at the NFL level, the margin of error is so small. And I think that's what we have to continue to learn. It's really hard to win games so everything you can control, control it, because there's things you can't control in a football game."
(On what he did following the victory)
"You only get about an hour to celebrate it. I tried to get to sleep as fast as I could because I knew we had – real early – we got on to Atlanta. Our coaches – like every staff in the National Football League . – when you play on Monday night, you get all of your pre-work done – which is a little bit distracting to the coaches because they're waiting for the game Monday – but their working on a Atlanta Sunday and Monday, getting all their drawings done and everything. Earlier this morning, both [offensive and defensive] staffs and special teams staff, we began game-plannng Atlanta. You don't have a long time to enjoy it, but it was good to be in the locker room, with guys that are expending a great amount of effort, to see the smiles on their face. Hopefully that kind of relieves some pressure off the guys and they can go out and play and not feel like, 'Eight [losses] in a row."
(On if there was a different feeling in the building today)
"We didn't get to be with the players, [but] a couple guys walked in the office. It feels better. Everything feels better when you win. The way it goes in this league is we know five days from now we are lined up against Atlanta. We've got a big test ahead of us."
(On how he slept last night)
"Great, but I always sleep [well], I'm tired. I didn't realize I had a pep [in my step] because right now I'm a little bit gassed, but it certainly makes it a little better the day after."
(On how he felt when he woke up)
"Tired [laughs]. No, it was good."
(On gaining 140 rushing yards without their top tailbacks and if that's a function of the offensive line executing)
"I think a lot of it is that. Number one, the patience. [Offensive Coordinator] Mike Sullivan being patient . As I said, it was going to be hard not to have any negative plays with that front. When they did dial up some run blitzes it was tough. But our offensive line, again, the credit goes to them. Persistent, believing in what they are doing and then the running backs running the plays the way their supposed to. I even forgot, this morning, [general manager] Mark [Dominik] and I were talking and [running back] Mike Smith got hurt so long ago, we don't even remember him. So it's four tailbacks ago that we're playing right now. But, as I often stand up here and say, nobody cares, right? Who do you got? Put them out there and let's see if he can do it. That's what I talk to our team about. I'm just grateful that Mark and our personnel people, a couple weeks back when Rainey became available, there really wasn't a pressing need at that time, but to get the best 53 guys on your roster, that's where the whole team effort comes along. Personnel, and coaching, everybody's working together, because he certainly showed up big last night and is going to have to show up big the rest of the season."
(On offensive lineman Donald Penn's touchdown catch)
"It's on the JumboTron. We call the play – if you look at Mike [James] he gets up and then he realizes something's not right and then all of a sudden the pain hit him and he went down like a ton of bricks and you could see him writhing in pain. We'd already called the play when he goes down. That stoppage in play – I knew we were going to recognize Donald, which is neat. They recognized him because his 100th start was on the road, so they recognized his 100th start for the crowd. I was great with that, then [quarterbacks coach] John McNulty says 'They're playing it on the board.' So the conversation on the headset, you wouldn't believe it. I said 'You can't make this stuff up.' Cooler minds prevailed and one of the coaches said 'We can't let the JumboTron make our decisions.' They brought two off the edge and Mike Glennon made a great [throw] in the face of pressure, [he] just kind of popped it over. I think one of the most impressive things was Donald's ability to put the ball over the crossbar, that's a big man doing that."
(On if that play was something they had worked on all season, or if they had practiced it specifically for Miami)
"That was a one-weeker. Donald, as you saw on the JumboTron, has a little experience at it, so we felt good."
(On if this close victory marks a turning point)
"Well first, getting that win. I think as weeks – I don't care when it is, when you get your first win, you get it out of the way. In this league, it's hard to win every game – it's only been done once, right? So it's really hard. I don't care who you are, as the losses mount, that one win becomes harder and harder [to get]. I hope now our guys can go out and play. Although they said there was no additional pressure, I think human nature puts that pressure on yourself. Now I hope – yeah, we're banged up, we're playing without a lot of the original starters, but again, there's a lot of good players still out there playing. We're going to have a chance in every football game, we've just got to go out and execute."
(On any fear that players will let up because there's no longer pressure to get the first win)
"No, I don't think that's going to happen, no. I know where you're going, like that mindset could set in. Not with this group – not as hard as the losses have been. I think more than anything, they're going to cherish the feeling of winning and want it back again. And again, we get a quick turnaround and I know that they're looking forward to it. Now, we've got to get well. Not only was [running back] Mike [James] permanently, or not permanently, but for the season, injured, but we have some guys that got – that was a physical game, again. I mean, every game's physical, but we have some guys that have bumps and bruises so we're going to have to really monitor the week and make sure that we get all our learning and get everything done but be ready to go on Sunday."
(On if it's better to build off of a win like Monday night or off of a "38-7 type" scenario)
"Well, first let me say I'll take the 38-7 any day we can get it, right? But yes, because I said it last night, I don't care who you are in that stadium, there was part of you that said, 'Oh, no, again?' And for our players to bow their neck, especially that drive – I think that drive was very, very big, just because [we were] mixing it up, run-pass, everybody contributing, and then getting back and playing defense that last set to win the game. Because when we took the field, it was very clear: you stop them, you win."
(On the lineup and play calls that led to two sacks on Miami's final drive)
"Well, in the week we made a decision that there was certain things we felt – you know, [defensive lineman William] Gholston's growing up, and he's getting more and more prepared, and we said, 'OK, this is going to be your package,' so I thought he handled what we asked him to do well. And some of it was a sacrificial role, too. Some of it he was just taking [Miami center Mike] Pouncey out of the mix, but he did what we asked him to do well, and [defensive tackle] Gerald [McCoy] continues to play at a very, very high level. I mean, he is playing up to all his preseason [build up] and expectations. I think we've just got to keep finding ways to put him in the best situation possible to rush the passer because he's proven that he'll do that. It doesn't always amount in sacks, but the fact that he is getting the quarterback off the spot, that he is disturbing the quarterback, that's critical. And I thought what we did – we said going into the game, and I don't know if I said it to you guys, but if we keep it in front of us, and we keep the quarterback in the pocket, we're going to win the game. I really believed that, and that's what we did. We kept [Miami quarterback Ryan] Tannehill in the pocket and we kept the ball in front of us. It's going to be a tight game, we knew that, they're a good football team, but those were the keys defensively, and they did it."