Splash play, short runs highlight Bucs receiver Rachaad White’s day

TAMPA — The final stat line looks pedestrian, the rushing numbers puny. For yet another Sunday, dispassionate analytics may frown upon Rachaad White, who didn’t total 100 yards last week against the Texans.

Unless a metric exists for momentum, or milking the clock.

In those cases, the second-year running back created the former and helped manifest the latter in Sunday’s 20-6 victory against the Titans.

“He played tough football,” coach Todd Bowles said.

Maligned for his ineffectiveness in the run game for the better part of the season’s first two months, White had 20 carries for 51 yards (2.6 yards per handoff) against the NFL’s 19th-ranked run defense. And his three targets in the pass game resulted in two catches for 47 yards.

But few played a more pivotal offensive role — be it with splash plays or simple ball control — against Tennessee.

After the Bucs’ first three possessions yielded 39 net yards, an interception and two punts, White created the spark when he took a Baker Mayfield dump-off throw on a Titans blitz. Turning upfield, he caught a critical block from center Robert Hainsey and — with right guard Cody Mauch serving as a behemoth lead blocker — raced for a 43-yard touchdown.

“He can run,” Mayfield said. “It’s always good to have screen plays that turn into explosives. That’s one of those — to have a balanced offense — we’ve talked about in the past weeks getting Rachaad more involved in the pass game.

It was the longest Tampa Bay scoring play of the season, giving the hosts a 7-3 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

“I just saw (the linemen) get in front of me, and it was like a train,” said White, who now has 35 catches (for 326 yards) on 36 targets this season. “I’m just a passenger, so I’m just following the train and just running along with it man, so it was just awesome to see.”

Less conspicuous, but perhaps no less critical, was a fourth-quarter sequence that helped extend a field-goal drive of nearly six minutes.

His team up by 11, Mayfield hit his right thumb on a Titans helmet on an attempted deep throw to Mike Evans. As the thumb throbbed, the Bucs followed with seven consecutive run plays, counting a pop pass (or glorified jet sweep) to slot receiver Deven Thompkins.

The Bucs totaled 28 yards on those plays, and were assisted by a 15-yard facemask whistle against Titans linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair.

White gained 8 yards on three carries in that stretch, helping extend a five-minute, 53-yard drive ending with a 35-yard Chase McLaughlin field goal that gave Tampa Bay a 20-6 lead.

“He was slamming it up in there,” Bowles said. “They’ve got a very good (defensive) line, their linebackers hit pretty hard. I know it wasn’t big runs, but the effectiveness of when he was slamming it up in there, eating clock up was big for us.”

As for eating up yards, that surely will continue in a receiving role, as White keeps evolving as a short-pass option that serves as an extension of the run game. Through Sunday afternoon’s games, his 35 catches ranked third among all NFL running backs, behind only Alvin Kamara (50) and Christian McCaffrey (38).

“Sometimes just getting the ball in their hands and letting them run works for us,” Bowles said. “And Rachaad did that.”

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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