A thrilling comeback amounted to nothing as the Bucs dropped their divisional round matchup to the Rams 30-27. The Bucs ineptitude to get anything going offensively and stop the Rams defensively played a huge role in their first half struggles and ultimate loss.. Thought they were able to mount an impressive comeback in the second half the game was lost late on a walk-off Matt Gay field goal. The offensive line really felt the loss of Tristan Wirfs, turning in one of their worst performances of the season. Tom Brady had virtually no time to pass.
Brady finished the game 30-54 for 329 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He was sacked three times and also had a fumble on the day. Mike Evans finished as the team’s leading receiver with eight catches for 119 yards. While Rob Gronkowski finished with four catches and 85 yards. The Bucs barely ran the ball, but Leonard Fournette finished with 51 yards on the ground, including the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. He added nine catches for 56 yards through the air.
The defense struggled mightily against the pass. They had no answer for Cooper Kupp yet again, allowing him to gain 183 yards on nine catches. Matt Stafford had 366 yards passing and two touchdowns through the air. The defense did come up with four fumble recoveries and a sack, but for the most part could not get consistent pressure on Stafford.
First Half Woes
Starting with the ball, the Bucs got two productive first down runs from Fournette before two incompletions stalled the drive. Off the punt, the Rams wasted little time moving down the field. Tampa Bay’s defense came up with a huge red zone stop, holding Los Angeles to just three points. Brady’s next possession on offense ended in a three-and-out, the Bucs punting it away.
Matt Stafford continued to find open receivers down the field on his next drive. Aided by a defensive pass interference and a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, the Rams found the end zone. A touchdown reception by Kendall Blanton gave Los Angeles a 10-0 lead. Just as it looked like the Bucs might be getting something going on offense, another failed third-down conversion forced Tampa Bay to settle for a field goal.
A kick out of bounds on the kickoff gave the Rams offense the ball at the 40-yard line to start their drive. A sack by Vita Vea set up a third-and-20, but Stafford found Cooper Kupp for a 70-yard touchdown pass to give the Rams a 17-3 lead. Another three-and out for the Bucs and a good punt return set Los Angeles up near midfield. Tampa Bay’s defense finally came up with a stop when they needed one in a big way.
Again the Bucs offense started moving down the field, finding rhythm utilizing Evans and Fournette in the passing game. But another failed third-down conversion forced a field goal attempt from 48 yards out. But Ryan Succop’s kick sailed wide right. Los Angeles was able to move into Bucs territory on their next possession. However, another stop by the defense held the Rams to just three points.
Down by 17, the Bucs desperately needed a score. Instead Brady was sacked on first down and threw an interception on the very next play. Already in field goal position, the Rams looked poised to extended their lead. A forced fumble and recovery by Antoine Winfield Jr. saved what could’ve been a disastrous series before the half.
Bucs Second Half Comeback Falls Short
With the Rams receiving the ball after half, the Bucs defense desperately needed a stop. They got the stop, but the offense sputtered once again with yet another drop on third down and had to punt. A nice return set Los Angeles up at the Bucs 28-yard line. Six plays later, Stafford punched it in from the one on a sneak. Brady led the Bucs on a 62-yard drive on his next series, but had to settle for three points.
Down 27-6, Tampa Bay need a splash play to remain in the game and the defense provided it. Jamel Dean forced a fumble, which was recovered by Sean Murphy-Bunting. Set up at the 30-yard line, Fournette ran it in from the one-yard line to cut the Rams lead to 14. Then the Bucs defense came up with a huge three-and-out. On the offense’s first play Von Miller got to Brady and forced and recovered a fumble giving the Rams the ball at the 25-yard line.
On Los Angeles first play after the fumble, the snap went over Stafford’s head and was recovered by Jason Pierre-Paul. A failed fourth-down conversion gave the ball back to the Rams. Operating from the Bucs 22-yard line, the Rams moved the ball down into field goal range. But Matt Gay came up short on a 47-yard attempt, giving the Bucs the ball back at their own 37-yard line.
With the season on the line, Brady’s fourth down pass sailed over Cam Brate’s head. The Rams took over at their own 31-yard line. A third down stop by the Bucs defense gave them the ball back with just under three mins left after Tampa Bay burned through all three of their timeouts. That was all the time Brady needed. It took three plays for Brady to find Evans for a 55-yard touchdown to bring the score to 27-20.
The Rams took over with just over three minutes remaining, trying to ice the game. On their second play of the drive, Ndamukong Suh stripped Cam Akers of the ball and Lavonte David came up with the fumble recovery. After the fumble, Brady and the offense started the ball at the 30-yard line. From there Brady marched the Bucs into the red zone. On a fourth-and-one with the game on the line, “Playoff Lenny” struck. Fournette ran in the game-tying touchdown from nine yards out.
It was all for naught though, as the Rams were able to move the ball down the field with just 42 seconds left. Cooper Kupp came up with two huge receptions to move Los Angeles into field goal position. Former Bucs kicker Matt Gay hit the chip shot to send the Rams to the NFC Championship game with a 30-27 victory.