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Rams vs. Buccaneers final score: Tampa Bay defense gives up the ghost

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers put up another embarrassing performance, losing 37-32 to the Los Angeles Rams in what was still a very close game. A one-hour lightning delay interrupted a potential Bucs comeback, who came up just short of a win in their first home game of the season.

The Rams had scored just nine points all season before this game, and their offense had looked absolutely anemic. The Rams hadn’t scored more than 34 points since 2014. Their offense has been a mess, and Case Keenum is no good. Despite that, they put up 37 points against a defense that was overhauled this offseason.

Tampa Bay was hit with a few too many injuries, losing defensive end Jacquis Smith to a season-ending injury in week one, and defensive end Robert Ayers to a shorter-term injury last week. That could have explained a few too many points allowed. It can’t explain 37 points.

The Bucs turned the ball over twice. Roberto Aguayo missed two kicks for the equivalent of four points, which could have made the difference in this game. And the defense is still a disaster, despite getting overhauled this offseason, despite Lovie Smith being fired for, essentially, not fixing the defense with significantly less talent.

So three games in, the Bucs are now 1-2 with a horrible-looking defense. On the plus side, at least the offense is looking productive, and a return of Robert Ayers could help that defense get back on track. That won’t fix this ugly loss, though.

The recap

The Bucs got off to a slow start once again. Jameis Winston has made that a tradition of his, for some unfathomable reason, but this time the defense pitched in as well. Alterraun Verner thought he had safety help, the safety instead jumped an underneath route, and the result was the Los Angels Rams’ first touchdown. Of the season. A 44-yard reception by Brian Quick.

That didn’t stop the Bucs, though. Linebacker Kwon Alexander got his back by getting the team’s first takeaway of the season, and running it back for a touchdown on the Rams’ second possession. We will never know what Case Keenum thought he was seeing.

And for the rest of the first half, Jameis Winston was on fire. He completed 11 of 16 passes for 130 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the first half, giving the Bucs a 20-17 lead. That should have been more dominant, but the one interception was the result of Charles Sims tipping the ball and giving the Rams an exceedingly short field.

The Bucs looked like the better team in the first half, though, and you couldn’t be faulted for assuming the Bucs would roll over the Rams in the second half. Instead, the opposite happened: the Bucs offense couldn’t quite get going, and when they finally got into scoring range, Roberto Aguayo shanked a 41-yard field goal.

The Rams answered with their third touchdown drive of the season to go up 24-20 toward the end of the third quarter, with Todd Gurley leading the way there and getting his second touchdown of the day. The Bucs then finally started to target Mike Evans consistently, getting all the way down to the 13-yard line — before Jameis Winston had the ball slapped out of his hand and returned for a touchdown.

31-20 Rams, 11:39 remaining in the fourth quarter. That was not a good look. The Bucs managed to cut that lead to 31-26 with a Cameron Brate touchdown — but then gave it right back, with a huge Tavon Austin touchdown, who made Keith Tandy look silly in the open field. A failed two-point conversion left it 37-26 with a little over four minutes remaining, and the game almost out of reach.

Somehow, Winston and company cut the deficit to 37-32 with a touchdown throw to Mike Evans that was eerily reminiscent of Josh Freeman and Mike Williams — a nearly blind lob up under pressure and Evans just outfighting the cornerback for a jump ball.

The Bucs then needed a stop to get the ball back just after the two-minute warning. On third-and-11 from the Rams’ five-yard line, though, the game faced a lightning delay of an hour. That didn’t help the Rams: they still gave the ball back, and Jameis Winston faced 55 yards with 1:42 left and two timeouts, needing a touchdown to win.

The Bucs got to the 15-yard line and came tantalizingly close, but in part thanks to poor clock management, and without throwing a single pass to Mike Evans on that final drive, Winston could not find the endzone.

Key statistics

Buccaneers

QB Jameis Winston: 36/58 for 405 yards, three touchdowns and one interception

RB Charles Sims: 13 carries for 55 yards and one touchdown, six catches for 69 yards

WR Mike Evans: Ten catches for 132 yards and a one touchdown

WR Adam Humphries: Nine catches for 100 yards

Rams

QB Case Keenum: 14/26 for 190 yards, two touchdowns and one interception

RB Todd Gurley: 27 carries for 85 yards and two touchdowns, one catch for -5 yards

WR Tavon Austin: Five catches for 82 yards and a touchdown, two carries for 22 yards

What’s next?

The Bucs host the Super Bowl champions, the undefeated Denver Broncos, next Sunday.