Rams Blow Lead, Survive Buccaneeers’ Late Rally

Ken Cross

January 24, 2022 at 9:01 am.

TAMPA, Fla. – With a 27-3 lead midway through the third quarter of Sunday’s 30-27 win over Tampa Bay, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford probably didn’t have the slightest thought he would have to throw a 44-yard pass to Cooper Kupp to set up Matt Gay’s walk-off 30-yard field goal to advance the Rams in the NFC Divisional Playoff at Raymond James Stadium.

The Rams defensive front-seven had harassed, hounded and marauded Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady all afternoon after taking that 27-3 lead and there were no signs of life in the stadium.

Rams running back Cam Akers fumbled for the second time as Ndamukong Suh stripped him of the ball and Lavonte David recovered on the Los Angeles 26-yard line.

On fourth-and-inches on the Rams’ 7-yard line, Leonard Fournette looked like he was going to play a key role in Tom Brady being able to rewrite one of the most epic of his come-from-behind victories as he scored off the right side and tied the game 27-27 with 35 seconds remaining.

Stafford then hit Kupp on a 20-yard pass play to the left sideline before finding Kupp running down the middle of the field on the 44-yard pass to the Bucs’ 13-yard line.

“Cooper was on kind of a vertical route right down the pipe and he (Stafford) put great trajectory on it,” said Rams coach Sean McVay. “Cooper was able to dig out and run underneath it and the rest is history.”

Then, former Buccaneer kicker Matt Gay finished the deal for the Rams with a 31-yard walk-off field goal.

“For Matthew to kind of throw off drift, hit Cooper down the pipe and then be able to get it clocked, and then Matt to be able to respond and knock it through as time expired – I mean it’s just the epitome of a team game,” said McVay.

How Did That Happen? Kupp ran a straight fly route by safety Antoine Winfield Jr. as the Buccaneers did not get a jam on him off the line of scrimmage.

“Some guys didn’t blitz,” said Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians. “I don’t know if we didn’t get the call, but it was an all-out blitz that we should have had a ton of pressure.”

The Buccaneers rallied on an afternoon where the offensive line had been thoroughly dominated by the Los Angeles front-seven and it took its toll on Brady, who was 19-of-37 for 204 yards and an interception through three quarters.

“We got off to a slow start which we certainly didn’t want to do against a good football team like that, who plays well from ahead,” said Brady. “It made us pretty one-dimensional.”

He was only sacked three times, but he was repeatedly hit and hurried and was never comfortable in the pocket. Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd and Von Miller were among the congregation of Rams that set up shop around Brady off the drop back.

According to postgame analytics, Brady was pressured on 30 percent of his drop backs, which was the most pressure that he had felt all season.

Left tackle Tristan Wirfs was out with an ankle injury and the Buccaneers were working with other injuries on that line as well.

“When you take an All-Pro guy out (Wirfs) and the other All-Pro was on a bad ankle – Ryan (Jensen) sucked it up and Josh (Wells) sucked it up. That’s a good front. We had our chances, but we just didn’t finish it.”

Resilience and Opportunity: The Rams looked like they were going to destroy the Buccaneers on a cold afternoon in Tampa.

Stafford, who passed for 366 yards, found Kendall Blanton on a seven-yard TD pass and then hit Kupp on a 70-yarder as Tampa Bay rolled up a 20-3 halftime lead. They extended to 27-3 with 7:07 left in the third when Stafford scored from one yard out on a quarterback sneak.

Kupp finished with nine catches for 183 yards.

The Rams were survivors as they weathered two Cam Akers fumbles, an errant snap that went over Stafford’s head and a missed Matt Gay field goal attempt.

On a 4th-and-9 at the Rams 29, Los Angeles backed up and played the Cover-2 with defensive drops and Brady hit wide receiver Scotty Miller on a 16-yard pass to set up a one-yard touchdown run by Leonard Fournette to cut LA lead to 27-13 after three quarters.

Then Brady found Mike Evans one-on-one with Jalen Ramsey and Evans burned him with a 55-yard touchdown connection that gave the Bucs the momentum as it cut the score to 27-20 with 3:30 to play.

“We were making plays at the end,” said Evans, who had eight catches for 119 yards. “Getting turnovers, scoring points, making big plays. When we played with a sense of urgency, it was hard for us to be stopped. We just fell short. “

Akers’ second fumble set up Fournette’s second touchdown of the night and then the subsequent Matt Gay game-winner.

“It was a great play by Suh,” said David of Suh’s forced fumble. “As I said, it goes back to every individual we have in the locker room and how they have the mentality that the game is not over until the clock strikes zero.”

Fournette had been on IR and was activated Saturday for the game, as he had scored the two touchdowns and had 51 yards on 13 carries. Tampa Bay had to abort the run by falling behind so quickly by such a large margin.

“There was not a ton of healthy bodies, but we found a way to get the ball in the end zone there at the end against a really good defense,” said Brady. “It’s tough to lose a game that comes down at the end like that, but it’s just the reality of pro football.”