By Dory LeBlanc
Both the Buccaneers and Dolphins are no strangers to controversy this season. As the Bucs' issues off-the-field took a backseat to Tampa Bay's winless record, the Fins found themselves in a media firestorm after a widely publicized bullying accusation from second year OL Jonathan Martin against veteran Richie Incognito took both linemen out of Miami's offensive equation - one by choice, the second suspended by the organization.
The two embattled franchises met under the lights of Raymond James Stadium in a rare regular season matchup, with the Bucs coming away with their first victory of the season, defeating the Dolphins 22-19 in front of a packed house.
Despite meeting only nine times in the regular season, the Bucs and Dolphins are perennial pre-season opponents, meeting nearly three times as much in August than during Weeks 1-16. Of the nine matchups that count, Miami entered the Monday Night Football game edging Tampa Bay 5-4.
For a change of pace, the Bucs started on offense and Mike James picked up where he left off last week against Seattle rushing for 41 yards on the opening drive, until on second and goal, the rookie out of Miami was tackled awkwardly as it appeared a Dolphins defender wrapped up James' left leg and came down on top of his ankle as James twisted his upper body in an attempt to gain extra yards. Unfortunately, James stayed on the field, visibly in a considerable amount of pain, and was carted off shortly thereafter.
When play resumed, LT Donald Penn checked in as an eligible receiver and caught a short pass from Mike Glennon to put the Bucs on the board first. The touchdown was Tampa Bay's first score on their opening drive this season, a preface of things to come.
Brian Leonard, playing for the injured James, picked up 20 yards on his first two attempts as the Bucs' feature back on the next drive, but the Miami defense shored up the redzone, preventing Tampa Bay from reaching the end zone and forcing Rian Lindell to kick a 24-yard field goal.
Leading 10-0, the Bucs defense took the field with the same intensity their teammates on the other side of the ball did, beginning with a quick stuff on special teams after the kickoff that forced the Fins to start on their own eight yard line, and holding Miami to minimal gain on the drive.
On its next possession, the Dolphins were backed up to the goalline when Lavonte David tackled RB Daniel Thomas in the endzone, adding 2 points to the Bucs subtotal and giving Glennon and Co. a shot to extend the score with possession back with Tampa Bay due to the safety. The Bucs were able to drive down, but Lindell added three more points on a short field goal.
The Dolphins would get on the board in the first 30 minutes, however, as Ryan Tannehill connected with Brian Hartline with 28 seconds remaining in the half to make it a 15-7 ballgame, heading into the Warren Sapp induction ceremony into the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor at halftime.
When the clock starting ticking down to start the third quarter, the Bucs abandoned their efficient, disciplined play and reverted back to what has cost them so many games this year.
Pinned at their own one, Tampa Bay could not get out of Miami's red zone, and were forced to punt it away. Marcus Thigpen returned the ball to the Bucs' 29 yard-line, but stout defense held the Dolphins to just a field goal on the drive.
With the score 15-10 and the Bucs back inside their own 10, Glennon found one of his favorite targets, undrafted rookie tight end Tim Wright for a 19-yard pickup and first down. The completion gave the full house energy, but just like several second halfs before this one, holding penalties stalled what seemed to be a momentum shift for the positive and the Bucs went three-and-out.
Michael Koenen shanked the punt, which went a measly 21 yards and the Dolphins took over at the Bucs' 41-yard line. Four plays later, the visitors were winning, after Miami's signal caller found Rishard Matthews all alone on the left sideline and took it 19 yards in for the score.
A failed two-point conversion held Miami's lead to one, but the Fins found themself in scoring position after Glennon threw an interception to Jimmy Wilson who took the ball to the Bucs' seven. A defensive stand on all three downs found Caleb Sturgis back on the field, adding three points to give Miami a 19-15 lead wth 10 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
As the fourth quarter opened, the Bucs kept their commitment to the run intact, with Leonard making short-to-moderate runs to keep the drive alive, but the stadium was almost at a whisper as Bucs fans tempered their optimism.
A 17-yard pass to Tiquan Underwood was received by a mild cheer, but on the next play, RayJay erupted when second-year RB Bobby Rainey rushed for 31 yards, followed by a one-yard TD run to regain the lead for Tampa Bay.
The one consistent bright spot throughout the contest was the Bucs' run defense, which held Miami to two yards rushing with 7:32 left on the scoreboard.
After forcing another Miami three-and-out, the penalty bug bit the Bucs once again as they were backed up to their own 11 after Eric Page picked up a personal foul for unsportsmanlike conduct on the punt.
Just when it looked like Miami would get the ball back with plenty of time to spare, LB Philip Wheeler nailed Glennon in the head after he threw the ball on third-and-six, gifting the Bucs a fresh set of downs with less than six minutes to play.
All the Bucs could muster was a 51-yard Koenen punt.
Starting from their own five, Tannehill carefully, but quickly moved the Dolphins 27 yards before the break for the two-minute warning. When the game resumed, Tannehill was sacked by William Gholston and Da'Quan Bowers for a loss of eight. On the next snap, Bowers struck again, this time with the help of Gerald McCoy to send Tannehill backwards another 10 yards.
On 4-and-28, Tannehill released a bomb downfield intended for Mike Wallace, that was picked off by Darrelle Revis.
After a timeout, the Bucs reconvened at their 33 with 1:32 left to go and the 22-19 lead.
For the first time in his career, Mike Glennon took a knee to end the game and give the Buccaneers their first win of 2013 under the lights of the Monday Night Football stage.