TAMPA — Bobby Rainey’s timing was exquisite on Sunday.
With the Bucs still smarting from last week’s 27-6 setback at Carolina, Rainey wasted no time showing teammates and an announced crowd of 59,194 at Raymond James Stadium that this day would be different.
“All I can say is it was a great feeling,” Rainey said after darting 80 yards for a touchdown on the game’s second play from scrimmage to set a Tampa Bay Buccaneers record for the longest run in franchise history.
“The offensive line opened up a big hole and I never looked back. Once you get things going like that, you can relax and play your game.”
Key blocks by left tackle Donald Penn and fullback Erik Lorig sprung Rainey for his historic run down the left sideline, but he had to make one final deke to avoid cornerback Leodis McKelvin and complete the scoring run.
Not only was it the longest run in team history, it also set a franchise mark for quickest touchdown, coming just 18 seconds into the game.
“It’s always great to go down in history,” said Rainey, who broke through with a 163-yard effort against Atlanta three weeks ago before struggling to find running lanes in the past two games.
Rainey averaged only 2.8 yards per carry against the Lions and Panthers, but quickly announced his presence against Buffalo as Tampa Bay reversed that disappointing score at Charlotte.
“That run really got us going,” Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “It sparked us and when our offense is doing that, it’s like, let’s not spoil it.”
Claimed off waivers from Cleveland in October, Rainey burst into prominence in Tampa Bay’s prior home game, after season-ending injuries to Doug Martin and rookie Mike James.
“Rainey stepped up big-time today,” Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis said. “He’s real shifty and when he took it all the way for six points, it gave us a big lift.”
By the time the Bills started fixing some holes, Rainey had already done his damage, finishing with 127 yards on 22 carries.
For the season, Rainey is averaging a robust 4.6 yards per carry and his five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving) rank second on the team to wide receiver Vincent Jackson.
“Lorig kicked the defensive end out and I got a linebacker on that touchdown ... Rainey did the rest,” Penn said. “Rainey’s a small guy. By the time the defense sees him, he’s gone.”
Nobody was more appreciative of Rainey’s dramatic run 18 seconds into the game than Bucs rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, who struggled most of the day.
“I think it set the tone immediately to have that big run to get up 7-0,” Glennon said. “Then our defense started forcing all those turnovers.”
Middle linebacker Mason Foster said Rainey’s touchdown was critical in establishing an aggressive mindset for the rest of an unseasonably warm afternoon.
“It was huge,” Foster said. “We feed off plays like that. It gets you going as a defense and I can’t say enough about his effort to finish the deal and get into the end zone. This league is so close, you need to score touchdowns every time you get an opportunity — he found a way.”
Rainey said his confidence never wavered during the last few weeks, even when Detroit and Carolina held the Bucs to a combined 88 yards on the ground.
“You’ve got to keep pushing forward because eventually something will happen for you,” Rainey said. “You can’t get frustrated because frustration will only lead to something bad. You have to have a short memory.”
And a long stride.