Rams 30, Buccaneers 27 — FINAL
Three divisional playoff games. Three game-winning walk-off field goals for the visiting team. The latest, a 30-yarder from Matt Gay, gave the Rams a stress-filled 30–27 win over the defending Super Bowl champions. With the top two seeds in the NFC both losing this weekend, the Rams will host the San Francisco 49ers in next week’s NFC Championship Game.
It certainly wasn’t easy—though it looked like it was for a good chunk of Sunday. The Rams built a 20–3 lead at halftime and extended it to 27–3 midway through the third quarter. Tom Brady could not figure out a stout Rams defense, with Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd pounding an injury-depleted Bucs’ offensive line.
But of course Brady made it a game. After passing for 112 yards in the first half, he came alive in the fourth quarter and somehow finished with 326 passing yards. When Leonard Fournette scored his second touchdown of the game from nine yards out with 42 seconds left, the game looked destined for overtime.
That’s when the NFL’s best receiver took over. After a sack to start the drive, Kupp caught back-to-back passes for 64 yards—setting up the Rams at the Bucs’ 12-yard line. L.A. stopped the clock with 5 seconds left and Gay came on for the game-winner.
Kupp finished with nine receptions for 183 yards and a score. Stafford, who won his first career playoff game just a week ago, passed for 366 yards and two scores.
Super Bowl LVI is set for Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium. If the Rams win next week, they will be playing for the championship on their home turf.
Meanwhile, prepare yourself for an onslaught of speculation as to the future of the 44-year-old Brady. If this was his last game in the NFL, he certainly made it a great one. Just not used to seeing Brady come up short in a game like this.
6:33 p.m. ET – Kupp Runneth Over!
So much for momentum. The Rams blew a 27–3 lead and were about to stumble into overtime, where there was no doubt Tom Brady would complete the miracle and vanquish the Rams.
Only that’s not how it happened. Two words:
After Fournette tied the game with 42 seconds left, Stafford nearly fumbled on first down. But then Kupp caught two long passes to get to the Bucs’ 13-yard line. The rams clocked it with 5 seconds to play and Gay came in to kick the game-winner.
So while MVP favorites Brady and Rodgers were both eliminated from the playoffs this weekend, Kupp—who had one of the greatest seasons a wide receiver has ever had— helped the Rams reach the NFC title game. The Rams will host the 49ers next Sunday. And if they win that game, the Rams will play a home game in Super Bowl LVI.
6:20 p.m. ET – Brand New Ballgame
Just when you thought Brady was going to have to go 70 yards with less than two minutes to play, Suh’s fumble recovery gives the Bucs life at the Rams’ 30. Momentum has remarkably swung to Tampa Bay’s side, but there are still a few Hall of Famers on that opposing defense.
On third-and-1 from the 21, Fournette bulls for three yards and a first.
Brady has been playing it cool, not worried about taking end zone shots—probably wary of giving Stafford the ball back in a tie game with a minute to play. But after a completion to Cameron Brate at the 9-yard line, the Bucs face a fourth-and-inches with 45 seconds to play. The Rams may have done Tampa Bay a favor by calling timeout. And if the Bucs do score right away now, the Rams have just one timeout left for any last-second drive.
So on fourth down … Fournette goes in for the touchdown!
27—27, 42 seconds left.
6:05 p.m. ET – Ain’t Over Til It’s Over…
On fourth down from the Rams’ 31, Brady had the best pass protection he’s had on any dropback all day—but he missed his target. The Rams take over and would like nothing more than to eat as much clock as possible. The Bucs are starting to burn their timeouts, but time is running out.
On third-and-7, Stafford avoided pressure and completed a short out pass to Sony Michel, but short of the marker. Hekker boots it away and Brady will go to work from his own 21 with 3:56 to play. This is it…
On first down, Brady again gets decent protection and Brady finds Miller for 21. Two plays later…
Brady to Evans for a 55-yard touchdown!
Stafford will get the ball back needing to kill 3 minutes, 20 seconds. And away we go…
5:54 p.m. ET – Rams Don’t Score, But Clock’s Ticking
The Rams offense is waking up at just the right time. Cam Akers, though he has been mostly held in check by the Bucs’ run defense, broke loose for a big first-down run that got L.A. to mid-field. Van Jefferson, who had a first down run to start the drive, caught a short pass—and not only did break some tackles to get a first down in field goal range, but he turned inside to stay in bounds and keep the clock running.
On third-and-11, the Rams kept it conservative and ran the ball. But Gay’s 47-yard FG attempt was no good. The Rams managed to move the ball and kill some clock, but it remains a two-score game with 6:31 left to play.
5:47 p.m. ET – Pressure Builds, and Weirdness Ensues
There’s been pressure on Stafford all season long—really, ever since the Rams traded two first-round picks for him in the offseason. The former No. 1 overall pick was expected to get the Rams this far, at least. He’s talked a good game all year in terms of not feeling the pressure. And maybe that’s true. But that last Tampa Bay touchdown and the re-energized crowd at Raymond James Stadium is adding an entirely new level of pressure. After a run for no gain, Stafford made back-to-back poor throws, overthrowing one receiver on second down and throwing behind his target on third.
Just as the vice was getting tighter for Stafford, a wild set of plays occurred…
Von Miller got the strip sack and recovery—only to have the Bucs get the ball back on the very next play.
Stafford wasn’t looking when the ball was snapped. Brady-to-Gronk takes Tampa Bay to the 32.
Backup safety Nick Scott, who intercepted Brady earlier in the game, made a big play to break up a pass. A Leonard Floyd sack left the Bucs with fourth-and-14 from the 32. The Rams broke up the pass to Evans and Eric Weddle was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit—but because the hit occurred after the ball fell to the turf, the Rams still took over on downs. Now Stafford gets another chance to right the ship.
5:25 p.m. ET – Bucs Still Alive
Okay, let the drama begin… After Sean Murphy-Bunting ran a Kupp fumble back to the Rams’ 30, Tampa Bay faced a fourth-and-9 from the 29.
Brady hit Miller for 16 yards and then Miller to set up first-and-goal at the 1.
On the last play of the third quarter, Fournette forces his way into the end zone—his seventh TD in his last seven postseason games.
Rams up 27–13 with 15 minutes to play. Hang onto your hats.
5:15 p.m. ET – Bucs Settle For FG
Just saw this story about Antonio Brown wishing Brady luck ahead of today’s game. That’s nice. Of course, maybe Brady would be doing a little better today if he had Brown in the lineup. There’s no way to know if Brown would have been healthy enough to play, but the Bucs sure do miss him.
Evans has his share of passes and Gronk just made a big reception to get into the red zone. But Scotty Miller just made his first catch of the game and Tyler Johnson has dropped a couple of passes. Without Brown, the Bucs offense is much less dangerous against a good defense.
Even after Gronk’s big gain, the Rams forced Tampa to settle for a field goal.
Rams 27, Bucs 6
5:05 p.m. ET – So Much For The Comeback?
So much for the Bucs’ miraculous comeback. Aided by a Rams’ delay-of-game penalty, the Bucs defense was able to get off the field to start the second half. But, a nice Johnny Hekker punt saw Brady start his first drive of the half at his own 5-yard line.
“They just cannot make the big plays on third down,” Cris Collinsworth said on the NBC broadcast.
To make matters worse, Brandon Powell returned the ensuing punt 33 yards to set up the Rams in great field position. Stafford completions to Blanton, Kupp and Beckham set up the Rams with goal-to-go, and Stafford punched it in on third down to put his team up, 27–3.
“This has been so impressive on so many different levels by the Rams,” said Collinsworth. “But in particular, by Mathew Stafford.”
4:39 p.m. ET – Rams 30 Minutes Away From NFC title game
There are two ways to look at this game as we head into halftime with the Rams holding a 20–3 lead.
1. The Bucs got a big break when they recovered that fumble that kept the Rams from going up 27–3, but nothing has gone right for Brady. He hasn’t looked good, and how crazy would this weekend be if the two MVP candidates, Brady and Aaron Rodgers, both go down in heaps?
2. On the other hand, who cares about a ho-hum Brady victory. At this stage in his otherworldly career, miraculous comebacks are really all we can expect.
Still, Brady had a lot of work to do—and more importantly, it won’t matter what he does if the Bucs’ defense doesn’t wake up. That fumble recovery aside, they haven’t had answers for the Rams’ offense. Stafford has 229 yards and two TDs at halftime. Cam Akers has been running well. L.A. gets the ball first to start the second half. And as we keep saying, the Bucs’ defense desperately needs a stop.