TAMPA — This time around, Donald Penn took no chances.
Almost three years to the day that Penn registered his first NFL touchdown, the left tackle of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened the scoring Monday night by catching a 1-yard pass from rookie Mike Glennon.
On Nov. 21, 2010, Penn grabbed a 1-yard scoring pass from Josh Freeman in a 21-0 victory at San Francisco. He then tried to throw the ball into the stands at Candlestick Park, where Penn's family was sitting, but his toss fell woefully short, prompting this retort by former Tampa Bay middle linebacker Barrett Ruud:
“As bad a body as he has, Donald's pretty nimble. It was a graceful catch and an awful celebration.”
Against the Dolphins, Penn reported as a tackle-eligible and lined up on the left side of the line as Tampa Bay faced third down from Miami's 1-yard line.
On the snap after running back Mike James injured his ankle, Glennon faked a handoff to Brian Leonard as Penn ran out uncovered in the left corner of the end zone.
After hauling in Glennon's flip for an early 7-0 advantage, the former high school basketball player in southern California jumped up and tossed the ball over the crossbar with his left hand as the home crowd cheered. The score came just moments after the scoreboard at Raymond James Stadium reminded fans that Penn was making his 101st consecutive start as a Buccaneer.
“Donald's been telling me how good his hands are,” said former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks, on hand to celebrate Warren Sapp's induction into the franchise's Ring of Honor. “I said, 'Yeah, for blocking somebody.' Tonight, I'm quite sure that when the game's over, Donald will be texting, wanting me to say he's got the best hands I've ever seen.”
Blasts from the past
With Warren Sapp being inducted into the Ring of Honor, the pregame sideline was awash with Buccaneer royalty.
There was Tony Dungy, hugging quarterback Trent Dilfer, who jumped down off the ESPN set to greet his former coach.
There was linebacker Derrick Brooks and cornerback Ronde Barber, sharing some laughs with former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, another ESPN presence.
There was safety John Lynch, chatting with quarterback Steve Young, who had a cup of coffee in Tampa Bay from 1985-86.
“There are a lot of great memories on the field tonight,” Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said. “You look around and it's almost like a reunion of the 1997 Buccaneers. We have former players and the ones who work for ESPN. There may not be another organization with as many former players in the media than us. It's great to see everyone back.”
Another solid game from David
All year long, Lavonte David has been a bright light in a dark season for the Bucs.
The second-year outside linebacker from Nebraska turned in yet another stellar defensive play early in the second quarter when David dropped running back Daniel Thomas for a safety that gave Tampa Bay a 12-0 advantage.
Tampa Bay's leading tackler knifed through an opening between center and guard and tackled Thomas in the end zone as the Dolphins faced second-and-11 from their own 1-yard line. Thomas never had a chance to elude David, who closed in quickly and was never blocked by a Miami offensive line missing suspended guard Richie Incognito and tackle Jonathan Martin, who left the team this month, citing an alleged pattern of bullying by teammates.
David led the Bucs in tackles as a rookie in 2012 and he entered Monday's game on pace for 140 tackles, including 22 for losses, 10 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, two interceptions and 10 passes defended.
David's second pro season got off to a rocky start as his out-of-bounds hit against Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith set up New York's winning field goal on the final play in Week 1, lifting the Jets to an 18-17 victory.
James goes down, Rainey pops up
Just when the powerful running of rookie Mike James was easing the loss of injured Doug Martin, the Buccaneers were forced to make another adjustment to their ground game.
With Martin sidelined by a shoulder injury that will require surgery, James gashed the Seahawks for 158 yards last week. The sixth-round draft pick out of the University of Miami plowed for 41 yards on his first five carries Monday night before injuring his left ankle toward the end of Tampa Bay's opening drive.
Brian Leonard replaced James and ran effectively before Bobby Rainey took center stage in the fourth quarter. Rainey, who played for University of South Florida head coach Willie Taggert at Western Kentucky, burst 31 yards off right guard, setting up his own 1-yard scoring run that put the Bucs ahead 22-19 with 10:19 to go.
Rainey was claimed by the Bucs off waivers from the Browns on Oct. 21. He played in six games with Cleveland, gaining 34 yards in 13 carries.
Rainey originally entered the NFL as a college free agent with the Ravens. He played 44 games at Western Kentucky, rushing for 4,542 yards and 35 touchdowns.