TAMPA — For so long, Bobby Rainey considered his size a curse. He was 5-foot-8, a small man trying to make it in a big-man’s game, and everywhere he went he ran into doubters who told him he didn’t fit.
In the past couple of years, though, as he began to have success — first at Western Kentucky University and now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Rainey decided that his size is something far different.
“I actually think it’s a blessing,’’ Rainey said Monday. “It’s something I try to take advantage of.’’
He appears to be succeeding.
After running eight times for 45 yards and the winning touchdown in the Bucs’ victory over the Dolphins on Nov. 11, Rainey guided Tampa Bay to its second straight win on Sunday. This time, Rainey ran 30 times for 163 yards and two touchdowns and caught a 4-yard touchdown pass to help the Bucs beat the Falcons 41-28 at Raymond James Stadium.
His most recent achievement — he became the first player since Edgerrin James on Nov. 11, 1999, to run for at least 150 yards and have two rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown in one of his first 10 NFL games — has set off what can only be described as RaineyMania.
An undrafted back out of Griffin, Ga., Rainey was claimed off waivers from the Browns a month ago. He has not only become the talk of Tampa, but the talk of fantasy league owners all over the country.
“Yeah, one of my ex-(WKU) teammates, Quinterrance Cooper, had me on his fantasy league team and he was about to cut me a few weeks ago because I wasn’t getting any points for him,’’ Rainey said.
“Then he texted me (after Sunday’s game) and I was like, ‘What, you didn’t start me on your fantasy team, right?’ And he said, ‘No, I did start you and I got all 36 fantasy points with you.’ ”
Rainey’s making points with the Bucs coaching staff, too. Under coach Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay has always considered itself a run-oriented team. Rainey is allowing them to maintain that identity at a time when many thought they wouldn’t be able to.
“He has good patience, he understands the plays and he’s a very strong runner who stays low to the ground,’’ Schiano said of Rainey, who was plugged in after starter Doug Martin (shoulder) and top backup Mike James (ankle) were lost to season-ending injuries. “He’s also got good balance, and he just kind of patiently presses it forward. And I know that sounds like, ‘Big deal, Coach,’ but it’s hard to do when everything is breaking down around you and the bullets are flying.
“A lot of times a young back like him will either (run away to the left) or (run away to the right), but he’s trusting it and staying the course right through the play. We call that running through the smoke because it is literally really cloudy in there and then right when you get (to the assigned hole) it opens up, and you have to trust the play and your linemen that it’s going to happen that way. He does.’’
It’s become easier in recent weeks for Bucs running backs to trust those holes will open up. The play of the line has steadily improved to a point Schiano thinks it had its best game of the year.
“Yeah, all five of them together,’’ Schiano said, “this was their best game to date.’’
After rushing for 186 yards on Sunday, the Bucs have run 113 times for 531 yards (4.7 per carry) in their past three games combined. It marks the first time since 2005 the Bucs put together three straight games with at least 140 rushing yards.
And Rainey actually thinks he might have left a few good gains on the field Sunday when he didn’t do as good a job reading his keys.
Overall, though, Rainey was ecstatic with a performance in which he showed his legion of doubters that, given a chance, his size is actually an asset.
“Yeah, with the offensive line being taller than me, it’s hard to find me because I’m so short,’’ Rainey said. “So, if the line does a great job of blocking, I just kind of get behind them and hide, really. It usually works out pretty well that way.’’