For the third time in three years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got blown out on Thursday Night Football as the St. Louis Rams won 31 to 23 in the battle of the condiments, ending Tampa Bay's remaining playoff hopes.
The Buccaneers looked disjointed for most of the game, as the defense got destroyed by short passes by Case Keenum, who completed 14 of 17 passes for 234 yards, two touchdowns, two sacks and no turnovers on the game. The Rams scored more points than they had all season, as the Bucs defense looked completely discombobulated on a short week making Case Keenum look like Tom Brady.
Meanwhile, Jameis Winston was flustered in the first half, his mechanics regularly breaking down under pressure as Aaron Donald made both Logan Mankins and Ali Marpet look silly throughout. That contributed to a 21-3 halftime deficit, despite Doug Martin running well. Winston calmed down and looked good in the second half outside of one ugly interception, but with receivers not making a couple of tough catches in the red zone and the defense continuing to look like garbage it wasn't enough to make this a close game.
Mike Evans and Doug Martin had big games for the Buccaneers, with nine catches for 157 yards and 18 carries for 91 yards, respectively. Jameis Winston completed 29 of 50 passes for 363 yards, two touchdowns, no sacks and one interception, with almost all of that production coming in the second half. Winston went over 300 yards for the first time in his career, also setting career-highs for attempts and completions. Winston also broke the Bucs' record for touchdowns by a rookie quarterback in a season with 20.
This loss ends the Bucs playoff hopes, as far as they still had those after last week's loss. There's still a theoretical chance they could get in at 8-8, but that comes with a whole lot of ifs, ands and buts. Instead, Tampa Bay can start preparing for next season -- and getting some good feelings out of the team's last two games.
First quarter notes
The Bucs got off to a horrible start, allowing the Rams to march straight down the field for a touchdown. Key plays: a 19-yard swing pass to Todd Gurley, and Tavon Austin's touchdown on a slip screen. The Bucs struggled to tackle anyone on that drive and just didn't look sharp -- strong side linebacker Orie Lemon looked particularly horrible, as he was making his first start this year. That incompetence continued in the first quarter despite a three-and-out, with Jude Adjei-Barimah getting burned for a 60-yard touchdown to Kenny Britt of all players.
On offense the Bucs decided once again to do what they do: give Doug Martin the ball a lot. To be precise: he got five consecutive carries to start the offense off, and said offense only stalled when Jameis Winston dropped back twice and was pressured into incomplete passes both times. On the team's second drive the Bucs turned more to Winston, but he continued to be jittery and off target as the Bucs settled for a field goal.
Second quarter notes
The Bucs actually got the ball down the field by repeatedly targeting Mike Evans, despite Jameis Winston continuing to look jittery and his mechanics breaking down both under pressure, and not under it. When he scrambled for what seemed to be a first down, the refs spotted it just short and Winston got into it with some opponents after the play. The Bucs correctly decided to go for it, but Aaron Donald blew up the blocking scheme and Doug Martin got stopped in the backfield.
That then turned into the Rams' third touchdown of the day, and the first time since week eight that they'd scored 21 points -- in a game, not just a first half. The Bucs gave up the rest of the half, running the ball three times before punting inside the two-minute warning. At least the defense finally came alive then, getting a sack and a dropped interception to end the first half.
Third quarter notes
The Bucs got the ball to start the third quarter down 21-3, and they immediately got to work, actually relying on the pass -- and it worked, with Mike Evans making a pair of ridiculous catches (one negated by penalty), dropping a ball (oops), and Adam Humphries turning a low pass into a first down. The Bucs stalled in the red zone, as Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Donteea Dye couldn't bring in a pair of tough catches, so they had to settle for a field goal and a 21-6 deficit.
That could have been the start of a turnaround, had the Bucs defense not decided to continue its collapse, allowing the Rams to get down the field on short passes, finished off by a 21-yard Tavon Austin touchdown run where he made probably every single Bucs defender miss. That made it 28-6, Rams and that effectively ended the game.
Fourth quarter notes
Jameis Winston had already looked good in the third quarter, but he caught fire in a hurry in the fourth. Four plays, four passes, 98 yards and the Bucs found themselves in the endzone with a Luke Stocker touchdown to cut the Rams lead to 15 points with 13:05 remaining.
Instead of actually trying to win the game, though, the Bucs decided that allowing Benny Cunningham to return it all the way to their three-yard line was a good idea. At least the defense stepped up and held the Rams to a field goal this time, but that ate up time and turned it into a three-score game again. The Bucs kicked a field goal from the six-yard line on their ensuing possession after not targeting Mike Evans on six red zone passes, turning it back into a two-score game but giving up a good chance to score a touchdown.
Jameis Winston then ended the Bucs chances to win the game with an ugly interception as the Bucs were trying to play catchup.
Defensive end Kourtnei Brown left the game with a groin injury at some point in the first half, and did not return.
Safety Chris Conte left the game with a knee injury in the third quarter.
Danny Lansanah went down in the fourth quarter after a hard collision with William Gholston, but returned just a few plays later.