The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) and Los Angeles Rams (3-0) Week 3 matchup was billed as a potential preview of this year's NFC Championship Game, but the actual contest itself was more one-sided, than anything.
Mistakes, missed opportunities, and poor defense crippled the Bucs en route to their first loss of the year. There will be plenty to stew on during their long flight home and over the coming days and it will be interesting to see how they deal with this loss moving forward.
The Rams won the coin toss, but deferred to the Buccaneers, who elected to receive the ball. The Bucs quickly faced a very manageable 3rd and 1, but Josh Wells was hit with a false start, which created a 3rd and 6 that the Bucs couldn't overcome. Bradley Pinion punted the ball away and the Rams offense took the field.
The Matthew Stafford-Cooper Kupp connection almost came through on first down, but Stafford missed a wide-open Kupp down the left sideline that eventually led to a three-and-out for the Rams.
Tom Brady found Giovani Bernard for a short pass on 3rd and 2, but Tampa Bay came up short again and went three-and-out again.
Stafford hit Robert Woods for a seven-yard gain which gave the Rams the first first down of the game. It looked like Jamel Dean was about to have a sure-fire interception on a second-down pass, but he dropped the ball and couldn't make the play. Stafford then underthrew DeSean Jackson on a deep pass, which killed the drive and forced the Rams to punt.
A 15-yard catch-and-run from Leonard Fournette and a 17-yard catch-and-run by Chris Godwin set the Bucs up close to midfield. It looked like Brady was about to hit Rob Gronkowski on a deep post route on 3rd and 5, but Gronk dropped the ball. Pinion punted the ball away and the Bucs caught a break with a holding call on the Rams special teams. As a result, the Rams offense started their next drive at their own 5.
An excellent tackle by Steve McClendon forced the Rams into a 3rd and 4. Tyler Higbee was able to advance the chains, however, thanks to a perfectly-timed screen pass. Stafford and Kupp finally connected on the very next play for a 22-yard pass that moved the Rams up to their 45.
An 11-yard pass to Van Jefferson advanced the Rams past midfield. Higbee fumbled the ball on the next play, but the Rams were able to fall on the ball and avoid disaster. The Rams committed to running the ball on this drive and while they didn't chew up a ton of yards, it was integral in keeping the Bucs defense off-kilter. Higbee eventually cashed in for the game's first touchdown with a six-yard grab to give the Rams a 6-0 lead. Matt Gay drilled the PAT and the Rams led, 7-0, after capping off a 14-play, 94-yard drive that last just a tick over eight minutes.
Bernard narrowly converted the Bucs' first third down of the drive with a nice catch-and-run on a swing pass, but the offense was right back in a third down situation two plays later. This time it was Godwin who came through with a seven-yard reception to move the chains.
The Bucs soon faced their third third down of the drive. Ronald Jones II was able to get the needed yards and moved the Bucs into field goal range. Brady then found a wide-open Gronk for a 26-yard pass down to the Rams 5, which set up a 1st and goal.
Tampa Bay faced its fourth third down of the drive from the Rams 2 and just like the three previous third downs, they converted this one, too. But this time, it led to six points as Godwin took a handoff from Brady on a jet sweep and lunged into the end zone for the Bucs' first touchdown of the game. The play capped off a 15-play, 76-yard drive and Ryan Succop's PAT went through the uprights to tie the game at 7-7 with 4:07 left in the first half. The drive took over eight minutes off the clock, just like the Rams' first touchdown
The game's first two touchdowns took a combined 16:24 off the clock, but it didn't take the Rams long to score their second touchdown. Kupp led the way, catching three passes for 33 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. It took the Rams a tad over three minutes to march 75-yards in 10 plays and they now led, 14-7, with :51 remaining in the first half.
It looked like an OPI on Gronkowski was going to kill any chance at more points before halftime, but Bernard came through with a huge 32-yard catch-and-run off a screen pass on 2nd and 20. Brady then hit Mike Evans for a 14-yard gain, putting the Bucs very close to field goal range at the LA 39.
But Aaron Donald came screaming off the edge and into the backfield and sacked Brady on the next play, causing Brady to fumble the ball. It looked like Bernard was about to bail his offense out with a heady play, but the officials ruled the play as a forward fumble, therefore it couldn't be advanced.
The play forced the Bucs to try a 55-yard field goal attempt. Succop's kick had zero chance and the Bucs went into halftime still down, 14-7.
That 14-7 quickly became 20-7. Stafford unloaded a deep shot to Jackson and the two connected for a 75-yard touchdown on 3rd and 10. Gay's PAT was good and the Rams now led, 21-7, with 14:02 left in the second half.
Tampa Bay's first drive of the second half didn't start off so well. A false start on 1st and 10 immediately put them behind the chains. But Brady found Evans on a deep comeback route for a 20-yard gain. He then found Gronk over the middle for a 15-yard gain. All of a sudden, the Bucs were in Rams territory.
The Bucs continued to move the ball. It looked like Cameron Brate was about to score his first touchdown of the season, but he was knocked out bounds just shy of the end zone. But the 17-yard reception led to a touchdown as Brady dove into the end zone on a quarterback sneak. Succop's PAT was good and the Bucs made it a 21-14 game with 9:57 left in the third quarter.
The DeSean Jackson Show kept playing the hits on the Rams next drive. He hauled in two passes for 45 yards, one being a 40-yard catch-and-run down to the Bucs 10. Kupp annihilated Carlton Davis III on a juke route a few plays later to catch his second touchdown of the game. It was a vicious route that left Davis completely exposed and the Rams were back up by two scores again, 28-14.
A Kenny Young sack on 2nd down derailed the Bucs next drive by forcing the Bucs into a 3rd and 15. Things became worse after Scotty Miller was flagged for a false start, which made it a 3rd and 20. Bernard couldn't get anything going on the subsequent screen and the Bucs had to punt.
Pinion's shanked the punt off his right foot, leaving the Bucs defense in a very bad spot. The 15-yard punt set the Rams offense up at the Bucs 37, which is obviously not an ideal situation to be in.
But the Bucs defense came through with a big stop and forced Gay to kick a 48-yard field goal. The kick was good, but the final result was still a victory for the reeling Bucs defense. The score was now 31-14, with 3:09 left in the third quarter.
Tyler Johnson came through with two big catches for 44 yards on the Bucs' next drive, which helped them set up a 1st and goal at the Rams 8. The offense couldn't punch it in for six, though, so the Bucs had to settle for a 26-yard Succop field goal. Tampa Bay made it a two-possession game again and trailed, 31-17, with 1:17 left in the third quarter.
The Rams continued to make life hell for the Bucs defense. A heavy dose of Sony Michel and Kupp piled up yards and was the catalyst for another Rams field goal. The Rams offense was able to get down inside the Bucs 5, but couldn't finish with a touchdown and now led, 34-17, with 8:14 left in the game.
The Bucs soon faced a 4th and 2 close to midfield, but couldn't convert and gave the ball right back to the red-hot Rams offense. But a Will Gholston sack kept the Rams from scoring any points.
Tampa Bay needed to act fast down 17 with just under five minutes left in the game. Brady and Co. were able to score, but there was just 1:10 left in the game when Brady found Bernard in the end zone to make it a 34-24 game. The Bucs attempted to recover the subsequent onside kick, but failed to do so, which officially sealed the deal on the loss.
The Buccaneers are now 2-1 on the season and will travel to Foxboro, Massachusetts next week to take on the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football. Kickoff is set for 8:20PM EST.
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