TAMPA — Small in stature, huge in impact.
Bobby Rainey, claimed off waivers from the Browns a month ago, just showed Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans the type of elusiveness while leading the Bucs to victory Sunday that typified his Hall of Fame idol.
The second-year back from Western Kentucky ran for 163 yards and two touchdowns, adding a 4-yard scoring catch as Tampa Bay’s overhauled backfield keyed a 41-28 triumph against the Falcons.
“My idol is Barry Sanders,’’ said Rainey, charitably listed at 5-foot-8. “I like the small running backs — Warrick Dunn and the one we just played (Atlanta’s Jacquizz Rodgers). He told me we’ve got to represent for the short guys.’’
Rainey did more than represent. He dominated.
His 163 rushing yards Sunday ranked ninth on the franchise’s single-game rushing list. He also became the first player in Bucs history to post one receiving and two rushing touchdowns in the same game.
Capitalizing on solid blocking up front, Rainey contorted his body on each of his 30 carries, leaving a trail of stunned Falcons in his wake, all asking the same question:
Who is this No. 43?
“He’s fun to block for and fun to play with,’’ Bucs right guard Davin Joseph said. “He ran into some tough looks today and made things happen. Those 5-yard runs aren’t very sexy, but they sure make third downs a lot more manageable.’’
With Doug Martin (shoulder) and Mike James (ankle) sidelined for the season, Rainey has provided the Bucs with a spark they couldn’t have envisioned when they added the undrafted free agent to the roster Oct. 21.
Early in the second quarter, with the score tied 3-3 and the Bucs facing second-and-19 after a holding penalty, Rainey displayed his quickness by slithering through a small hole off right guard and dodging two tacklers en route to a 43-yard touchdown run.
“Rainey stays low, he hides behind us and then he pops out,’’ left tackle Donald Penn said.
The Falcons, saddled with the least productive ground game in the league, didn’t know what hit them.
“They got it going on us pretty good,’’ linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “They got good push and Rainey is pretty good. It was a rough day from that aspect.’’
In pro football, one man’s rough day is another man’s gift.
“I think you have to be a little surprised, Rainey’s only been here three weeks,’’ said Bucs rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, who took advantage of a balanced attack to post a passer rating of 137.5. “He comes in every day and he has a smile on his face, eager to learn. Like I say every week, when our run game is going, it helps everything in the pass game.’’
Bucs center Jeremy Zuttah knew virtually nothing about Rainey at the time of his arrival in Tampa. But after running for 208 yards in his first 38 carries with a new team, Rainey’s anonymity has worn off.
“He makes a lot of moves, but somehow he gets upfield while he’s doing it,’’ Zuttah said. “It’s not like he’s dancing back there. We know if we give this kid just a little bit of daylight, he’s going to get through.’’
After slapping hands with dozens of Bucs fans after the game, Rainey was quickly enveloped by a media horde in the locker room.
For once, he had nowhere to run.
“That’s my motivation — to prove people wrong,’’ Rainey said. “I actually foresaw me playing in this league when I was little. No man can tell you what you can’t do. I know I can accomplish whatever I put my mind to. I’m small, so I don’t like to take a lot of hits. That’s how you stay in this league.’’