This game looked close by a final glance at the scoreboard, but it just never felt that way.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4) fell to the Los Angeles Rams (7-3) on Monday Night Football, the Bucs' third loss in four primetime games this season, and proved that a good defense can't overcome its offense's shortcomings. At least, not in this day and age in the NFL.
With that, our five key takeaways from the loss include a question that may not be what you want to read as a Bucs fan: Are things working out with Tom Brady?
Brady's two interceptions were game-changers
Once again, the Bucs struggled to run the ball and went pass-heavy very shortly after the game started. Brady threw a lot of short passes and found some rhythm in the first half doing so, but it became a tale of two halves for the 43-year-old signal-caller unlike we've seen throughout his illustrious career.
With 7:55 left in the third quarter, tie game at 17, Brady faced pressure from the left side/interior but decided to take a shot downfield as the pressure was directly in his face. Targeting Chris Godwin across the middle of the field, Brady's accuracy was off and the ball floated right to deep safety Jordan Fuller for a pick. The Rams responded with a 37-yard touchdown drive.
Then, on Tampa Bay's final drive, down three points with 1:56 left, Brady did it again but this time without pressure as an excuse. Brady floated a ball on what he and head coach Bruce Arians considered a bad read to wide receiver Scotty Miller, intercepted once again by Fuller, and the game was over.
Two back-breaking turnovers, not to mention a near-endzone fumble that was questionably called incomplete in his favor by ending in an incomplete pass, isn't the Tom Brady everyone has watched over the last 20 years, and it's certainly not the Tom Brady that the Bucs thought they signed in March.
The Bucs swung for the fences during the 2020 offseason by pulling Brady away from the only NFL home he's ever known. He's been far from terrible and games like last week's against the Carolina Panthers give you hope, but it's hard to imagine that anyone expected Brady to crumble in big games and big moments as he has this season.
However, that's exactly what happened against the Rams on Monday, and against the Saints two Mondays prior. In these two games, Brady has completed 48-of-86 passes (55.8%) for 425 yards, twotouchdowns, and five interceptions.
Receivers kept the Bucs alive
Thanks to two long-hard fights after the catch by receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin on short passes, the Bucs were able to put some points on the board via the passing game. Tampa Bay's second scoring drive, coming on a Leonard Fournette two-yard rushing score, was set up by nine pass calls compared to two runs.
Without Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, however, this game never would have been close. Antonio Brown was neutralized in the second-half after being targeted often in the first, while the Bucs' running back corps had at least three drops before finally catching a pass. Evans and Godwin were the only two receivers who could make plays happen beyond ten yards as the game went on.
Both showed a ton of fight on their touchdown receptions to get into the endzone, specifically Evans who was given a 3.7% chance to score after the catch on his touchdown by NextGenStats.
The box score won't show it, but Evans had his way against star Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey throughout the night, including beating him on a boundary go-route what should have ended in a touchdown and changed the course of the game. A poor deep pass from Brady made the play but a dream, however.
Marpet is missed
An early ankle injury to left tackle Donavon Smith (who quickly returned) and a late stinger to left guard A.Q. Shipley made a disappointing passing attack on the night gasp at the possibility of taking another step backward.
Smith was back in the game on the next drive while Shipley's injury was two snaps before Brady's final pick, but it made you remember how much the Bucs miss left guard Ali Marpet (concussion). The possibility of putting Joe Haeg into the game after his showing vs. the Saints two weeks ago was unbearable, and Arians actually went with other, less experienced options in Josh Wells at LT and Aaron Stinnie at LG.
When Smith and Shipley were in the game, the line as a whole held up well considering the competition that was Aaron Donald and Co. The Bucs allowed Brady to be sacked just once on the night, however, he did deal with pressure numerous times off of the left side that led to the first interception and errant throws.
Marpet has now missed three games due to his concussion, and while the OL hasn't been the team's absolute weakness, his pending return should only help Brady keep a cleaner jersey and receive more time to throw.
Bucs' run defense was immaculate, but Goff took what he could
The good and perhaps unexpected but not totally shocking news: The Buccaneers' elite run defense was elite on Monday night, holding the Rams to 1.85 yards per carry on 20 rushes for 37 yards, including six carries for five yards in the entire first half.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff, however, was unphased by the offense being kept one-dimensional. Goff went on a first-half, short-passing tear by completing 84% of his passes at just 7.48 yards per attempt .Only four of his 21 first-half completions cleared 10 yards when the play was over.
That's all the Rams needed offensively. The Bucs' couldn't finish tackles which allowed Rams' receivers to take short passes and convert them into big gains. Cooper Kupp took five first-drive receptions for 62 yards and was able to make things happen after the catch to extend plays, simply wearing down Tampa Bay's passing defense...
Secondary continuing to struggle against up-tempo offenses
For the third week in a row, the Buccaneers' secondary has struggled to keep up with an up-tempo passing attack at the beginning of the game.
Last week against the Panthers, it mattered little as the Bucs' dominant offensive showing was one that Teddy Bridgewater, even after starting the game a perfect 13-of-13 for 126 yards and two touchdowns, couldn't keep up with. The week before, however, was a miserable showing that ended with New Orleans QB Drew Brees walking out with a 26-of-32 stat-line while the Saints scored 31 first-half points.
Much of the same could be seen this week, although much less scoring. Goff completed 21-of-25 (84%) of his passes for 187 yards and two scores in the first half, which allowed the Rams to take a lead into halftime before getting the ball back to start the second half.
Semi-fortunately although it means nothing now, the Bucs intercepted Goff on the first drive of the third quarter. However, Goff had sold the Bucs on the underneath plays early on which led to passes of 16, 18 (twice), 17, 19, and 23 yards, in order, throughout the second half. The two 18-yard gains set up Goff's third-quarter touchdown pass to running back Cam Akers.
The Rams didn't get tricky or do anything special to defeat the Bucs with their offense. Rather, Goff played efficiently and with a quick rhythm in the first half, which opened up chunk plays in the second half, effectively putting this game out of reach while Brady and Co. could barely move the ball at all.
Other than taking advantage of some not-well-thrown passes attempting to stretch into the intermediate level of the defense to create turnovers, the Bucs' secondary was unable to slow the Rams' roll when plays were being called and run quickly.
While cornerback Carlton Davis III and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. have been bright spots on the backend throughout the year, it's clear the Bucs could benefit this offseason by acquiring more talented and athletic defensive backs.