TAMPA, Fla. — Bobby Rainey’s never lacked confidence in himself. All he wants is an opportunity to show he can play in the NFL.
“That’s my motivation, when people tell me what I can and cannot do,” the diminutive running back said Sunday after rushing for 163 yards and scoring three touchdowns to help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dominate the Atlanta Falcons 41-28.
Picked up on the waiver wire last month, Rainey is playing for his third team in less than two seasons. This performance came six days after he carried the ball for the first time with Bucs and played a key role in helping them get their first win.
“To come back and do it again today was huge,” Rainey said.
The 5-foot-8, 212-pounder whose lack of size hurt his chances of being drafted is making his mark while filling in for the injured Doug Martin and Mike James.
Rainey scored on first-half runs of 43 and 3 yards, then caught a 4-yard TD pass from Mike Glennon in the third quarter to help the Bucs (2-8) win for the second straight time following an 0-8 start.
The previous week, he rushed for 45 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown in a 22-19 victory over Miami. He began the season as a kick returner and backup running back with the Cleveland Browns.
“He’s stepped up. We put a lot on his plate, but he’s handled it well,” receiver Vincent Jackson said.
“He’s being very coachable. He’s taking in everything that’s being asked of him, doing a great job in the passing game as well, picking up blocks,” he said. “I see the kid being successful the rest of this year. We put guys in position to be successful. Hats off to our coaches for working with him, putting the time in so he can go out there and compete.”
Matt Ryan threw an 80-yard TD pass to Harry Douglas, extending his streak of consecutive games with at least one touchdown to 16 games. He threw a 6-yarder to Roddy White in the fourth quarter, but also was sacked three times by Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy and had one of two interceptions returned 37 yards for a TD by linebacker Mason Foster.
The Falcons (2-8), who went a NFC-best 13-3 and finished one victory shy of the Super Bowl last season, have lost four straight by a combined score of 135-61.
“It’s embarrassing, the way we came out and performed as a team. I mean all of us,” Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “It’s all of us. (I’m) getting tired of it. It’s all of us. That’s the thing about it. It’s going to take all of us to get out of it.”
Falcons owner Arthur Blank said he still has confidence in coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
“I absolutely do. And, they’ve earned it over the past five years,” Blank said. “It’s a tough business. We’ve had a lot of injuries, and issues on top of the injuries. These guys are proven leaders and proven by success. … They’ll do the work that has to be done with my full support.”
Glennon completed 20 of 23 passes for 231 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Jackson caught a 3-yard TD pass and finished with 10 receptions for 165 yards.
Rainey entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with Baltimore after leaving Western Kentucky as the Hilltoppers’ career rushing leader. He was released once, re-signed to the Ravens’ practice squad and eventually wound up on the active roster before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Baltimore went on to win the Super Bowl, and Rainey received a championship ring despite not appearing in a regular-season game as a rookie.
“I think preparation meets opportunity. … He’s not lucky. This guy worked his tail off, he trained to do all the right things, and here come his chance and he’s ready for it,” Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “So good for us, good for him.”
The Bucs opened the season with eight straight losses, with four of the setbacks coming in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime. They beat Miami to become the last team in the league to win this season, and played again Sunday with a confidence that’s been building since an overtime loss at Seattle two weeks ago.
Ryan completed 19 of 36 passes for 254 yards. He was replaced by Dominique Davis midway through the fourth quarter, but re-entered the game after the backup limped off the field with an injury.
The Falcons trailed 41-13 before Antone Smith scored on a 50-yard run and Ryan threw his TD pass to White.
NOTES: Foster, who left the game in the second half with a concussion, became the first Bucs linebacker since Derrick Brooks in 2002 to return two interceptions for TDs in the same season. … The Falcons rushed for 152 yards, most of it in the fourth quarter. Besides his 50-yard TD burst, Smith gained 38 on his only other carry. … Douglass had six receptions for 134 yards for Atlanta.