TAMPA — They came to celebrate the past. By the time it was all said and done, the sellout crowd that filled up Raymond James Stadium on Monday night was celebrating the present.
For the first time this season, the current edition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave its fans a reason to.
Though they briefly squandered the 15-point first-half lead they built, the Bucs rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Miami Dolphins 22-19 and post their first victory after eight straight losses.
They did it on a night the team honored defensive great Warren Sapp, who was inducted into the Ring of Honor and had his No. 99 jersey retired during a halftime ceremony.
The way they did it just might give their faithful fans some hope for the future.
Bobby Rainey, a recent waiver-wire acquisition and currently the third running back on their roster, completed the rally with a 1-yard touchdown run with 10:19 to play in the fourth quarter.
The defense then made that late lead stand up by twice sacking Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill before intercepting him on the final fourth-down play of Miami's last drive.
The sacks — Da'Quan Bowers and rookie William Gholston shared the first while Gerald McCoy got the second — and Darrelle Revis' interception ignited a chorus of old-fashioned “Tampa-Bay'' cheers that were still echoing long after the game ended.
They also allowed embattled Bucs coach Greg Schiano to leave the field in triumph for only the second time in his past 15 games, Schiano pumping his fist in the air as he ran through the tunnel leading to the locker room.
“It's a good feeling to be able to stand up here after a win,” Schiano said. “It had that same feel going down the backstretch, but our guys bowed up and made some plays in the clutch. That was something that was much needed.''
As joyous as the Bucs were to have finally won a game, there was concern over the loss of running back Mike James, who fractured his ankle early in the game and likely will miss the rest of the season.
James, who ran 28 times for 158 yards and threw a touchdown pass in helping the Bucs build a 21-point lead at Seattle last week, ran five times for another 41 yards before going down at the end of the Bucs' first drive on Monday.
The Bucs got 57 yards on 20 carries from Brian Leonard and 45 more on eight carries from Rainey.
“It's weird because technically we had three running backs go down this week,'' Schiano said, referring to the previous loss of backs Doug Martin and Jeff Demps. “So, to have the two remaining do such a good job is big.
“Brian, we knew he was a good kid when we got him during the offseason, and Bobby, he's only been here a couple of weeks and I thought the best thing he did tonight was secure the football.''
Rainey got 31 of his yards on one play, a second-and-9 run from the Miami 32 early in the fourth quarter. He finished off the drive by running the final yard for the go-ahead touchdown.
“Bobby Rainey has been pretty quiet but he picked up our offense tonight,'' Bucs left tackle Donald Penn said. “He's like a hired assassin. He made the most of his opportunities in football. This is how I got my start in the NFL.''
Penn had a hand taking down the Dolphins, too, and not just as a run blocker or pass protector. He was the pass catcher on the Bucs' first touchdown, a 1-yard Mike Glennon pass.
“I've been lobbying for that play all season long,'' said Penn, who dunked the ball over the goal post after he scored. “You know I love basketball. The first time (I scored a touchdown in 2010), I didn't know how to act. This time, I had a plan.''
The Bucs had a plan, too, and that was to stop the Dolphins' running game. They did it better than any team ever has, limiting Miami to 2 yards on the ground, the fewest ever for by the Dolphins. Tampa Bay held Miami to 2 yards rushing on 14 attempts, a Bucs franchise record for fewest rushing yards allowed.
The Bucs also had a plan to run the ball down the Dolphins' throats once they regained the lead, and they succeeded in that endeavor largely by leaning on Leonard down the stretch.
“It feels like a great collective team victory,'' said Glennon, who completed just 11 of 21 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown.
Glennon also threw his first interception in 159 pass attempts to aid the Dolphins' rally, setting up the score that allowed Miami to take a 19-15 lead just before the start of the fourth quarter.
But with Rainey breaking off some big runs and the defense coming up with three big plays when it needed them most, the Bucs managed to mount their own comeback and move into the victory column.
“We just really put an emphasis, once we took the lead, of running the ball,'' Glennon said. “Between the line and the backs, we did a really good job there and then the defense did a great job of holding them.''