TAMPA — Greg Schiano held his left thumb and index finger less than an inch apart in explaining the difference between the play of his Bucs' team which lost its first eight games this season and the one that won its past two.
"It's this. The National Football League is this, it really is," Schiano said a day after the Bucs' 41-28 victory over Atlanta. "It's such a fine line. It can be confidence, it can be guys coming back from their surgeries starting to feel more like their old self, it can be rookies that are getting their opportunity and are gaining confidence."
This month, the Bucs started to resemble the team many thought it would be from the beginning. First, there was the surprising performance in an overtime loss Nov. 3 at Seattle, followed by back-to-back wins in six days against the Dolphins and Falcons.
The turnaround has some fans wondering: Where was this the first half of the year?
"I understand their frustration," Schiano said. "But we can't look back."
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who had three sacks Sunday and four in his past two games, agreed.
"You knew it was there," McCoy said. "You knew we had the ability to do it. There was just something missing. … We had a lot of opportunities. The same opportunity came up Monday night (against the Dolphins). We finished the game and all the opportunities we had Sunday we took advantage of.
"I guess you could say, "Where was that earlier in the year?' But you don't want to look in the past."
Three games ago Schiano, tired of watching rookie quarterback Mike Glennon average more than 45 pass attempts in his first four games, insisted that the Bucs return to a strong run-first team.
As Glennon's attempts fell (an average of 22 the past three games) the rushing production rose. On Sunday running back Bobby Rainey, claimed off waivers from Cleveland on Oct. 21, rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. He also had a touchdown catch.
"We're playing more within our identity," Schiano said. "The run doesn't set up everything. I think the pass can set up the run, the run can set up the pass. … Go back to what we are, who we are."
Rainey is the third Buc to rush for at least 140 yards in a game this season, joining Doug Martin and Mike James, who are on injured reserve. That's a testament to the offensive line, which got a boost three weeks ago with Jamon Meredith at left guard and right guard Davin Joseph healing from knee surgery.
"I think they've just stuck with it," Schiano said. "I think a guy like Davin Joseph has battled back. … He's not back to where he's going to be, but he's starting to get back to that area"
Getting the first win, Nov. 11 against Miami, was a huge psychological hurdle, Schiano said.
"When you're trying to find your stride and you have a bunch of guys coming back, there is a little uncertainty," he said. "Let's not kid ourselves. This guy had surgery, that guy had surgery. There's a lot of guys thinking, 'Am I going to be my old self?' And then you don't win.'
Schiano credited his players for sticking together through an 0-8 start, the release of quarterback Josh Freeman and an outbreak of MRSA that infected three players.
"As far as the team, I appreciate the way they've persevered through a lot of things, a lot of adversity," Schiano said. "They've stayed the course and I think as a result, the team has grown closer."