MUNICH — Rachaad White learned early last week that he would make his first NFL start at tailback for the Bucs when Leonard Fournette lost his passport and there was doubt whether he could make the trip to Germany for Sunday’s game against the Seahawks.
As poorly as the Bucs had been running the ball — they were last in the NFL in rushing entering the game — crossing the Atlantic Ocean was proving as hard as crossing the goal line.
But one play White made in a 21-16 win over the Seahawks could be remembered as the turning point for the Bucs’ offense this season.
On the final play of the third quarter, the rookie broke loose through a gaping hole on the left side when he encountered Seattle safety Quandre Diggs at the Bucs 40-yard line. White stutter-stepped, and with the ball under his right arm, he pushed his left into the defender’s chest, somersaulting Diggs backward 5 yards.
All the 69,811 fans at Allianz Arena may not have understood everything about American football, but they let out a loud “Oooh!” in unison at the end of White’s 29-yard run.
“I was setting (Diggs) up for something, and the stiff-arm just happened. It just was a reaction,” White said. “Playing running back, you’ve got to react a lot, so I was stutter-stepping, setting him up for something, and he just bit, and he did a good job of just staying there and not letting me break the big run. I just wanted to set an example.”
White finished with 105 yards on 22 carries. He spun, he juked and he grounded out one tough yard at a time. In the end, he helped the Bucs run their way to a second straight victory and a 5-5 record heading into their bye week.
Fournette’s new passport arrived a couple of hours before the Bucs’ flight to Munich on Thursday. The Seahawks had as much trouble stopping him as German customs, allowing Fournette to rush 14 times for 57 yards and a score.
Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes, to Julio Jones and to Chris Godwin for the wide receiver’s first of the season.
But when the Seahawks closed a 21-3 deficit to within a score late in the fourth quarter, White made them burn their final two timeouts with runs of 12 and 18 yards, enabling the Bucs to run out the clock.
Brady was ebullient after the game. He raved about the energy of the fans in Allianz Arena. Thousands of fans arrived more than three hours before the game. They cheered the loudest when Brady took the field for warmups, and he rewarded them with his “LFG” scream and fist pump.
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During the game, they serenaded both teams with raucous renditions of songs from the 1970s and 1980s; John Denver was a favorite in the second half.
“Yeah, that was one of the great football experiences I’ve ever had,” Brady said, “so that says a lot for 23 years in the league, and for a regular-season game, I think the fan turnout was incredible. It felt very electric from the time we took the field.
“At the end of the game with them singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads,’ that was pretty epic. I think everyone who was a part of that experience got to have a pretty amazing memory for their life.”
Seattle (6-4) entered the game as the leader in the NFC West and the feel-good story of the year with quarterback Geno Smith, who spent the last eight years as a vagabond backup.
The Bucs defense bottled up Seahawks rookie running back Kenneth Walker III, limiting him to 17 yards on 10 carries.
Bucs linebacker Devin White, playing with a heavy heart after learning his 45-year-old father had died suddenly Thursday, had two sacks and forced a fumble when he stripped Smith of the ball. It was Bucs’ first forced turnover in six weeks. The Seahawks were only 1-of-9 on third down.
But there were Bucs mistakes, too. Fournette threw an interception on a halfback pass that was too high for Brady.
“Had (Brady) not slipped, you would have seen his 42-inch vertical,” said coach Todd Bowles, laughing.
The defense allowed the Seahawks to climb back to within a score when Smith fired touchdown passes to Tyler Lockett and Marquise Goodwin in the fourth quarter.
By then, Fournette was out of the game with a hip pointer. No problem. The team that entered the game averaging 60.7 rushing yards per game simply turned and handed the ball to White.
“I was really disappointed,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “(The Bucs) have not been running the ball very consistently, so coming into the game, we were hoping we could just keep it under wraps and be able to deploy for the throwing game. They did better than we thought they would. They finished running the ball in the fourth quarter, which kills me.
“That last drive, to not get the ball back and get our chance again, that’s just not the way we expect to play or the way we ever want to put it out there.”
Brady, who is 4-0 in international games, knows something about celebrating on the long ride home.
“It’s going to be a fun ride home,” Brady said. “I don’t know if we have alcohol on the plane, not that I drink much. But it will be fun to watch all the other guys drink. I’m sure there might be a few guys looking for some beer on the way out of the airport. We’ll see.”
They packed up all their souvenirs from Germany — jerseys and scarves from soccer team Bayern Munich, an undisclosed gift Brady said he purchased for his daughter, Vivian.
The biggest export of all was another victory.
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @NFLSTROUD.
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