At 2-0, the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers were out on the West Coast on Sunday to square off with another 2-0 squad, the Matthew Stafford-led Rams. Tampa Bay and Los Angeles would enter the day as two of the NFL’s six remaining unbeaten teams, but only one of the two would walk into Week 4 as part of that select group.
The Bucs, coming in on a 10-game winning streak dating back to last December, were looking to play their first complete game of the 2021 season. A penalty- and mistake-ridden win against the Cowboys on opening night preceded last week’s win over the Falcons, which ended up being a blowout after getting a little too close for comfort in the fourth quarter. The Rams, on the other hand, were looking to defend their home turf and prove that they’re the top contenders they’ve been branded as by beating a Super Bowl favorite.
Tampa Bay didn’t escape the first two weeks without getting a little banged-up, as Sean Murphy-Bunting landed on injured reserve in Week 1 before both Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) and Antonio Brown (Reserve/COVID-19 List) were among those missing on Sunday in Los Angeles. The Rams came in with their fair share of issues as well, as their running back room was hit hard by the injury bug before the season even began. Cam Akers is out for the season and his replacement, Darrell Henderson Jr., was held out of Sunday’s game with a rib injury.
Even with those absences, Sunday’s game was billed as a big one between two of the NFC’s top teams. Tampa Bay came in as one-point road favorites, though ESPN’s FPI Matchup Predictor preferred Los Angeles, giving the home team a 55.4% chance to win the game. And a lot of points were expected between two top offenses, as the over/under was set at 55.
Early on, it wasn’t the shootout everyone was expecting. The two teams played a scoreless first quarter before some long drives resulted in a 14-7 Rams lead at halftime. A 75-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to DeSean Jackson turned the tide to start the second half, as Los Angeles took a 21-7 lead and never looked back. Injuries in the secondary and lack of rhythm for the offense plagued the Bucs as they suffered a setback for the first time in 2021, losing 34-24 to fall to 2-1.
The Rams won the coin toss and elected to defer, meaning the Buccaneer offense would take the field first. After a touchback on the opening kickoff, Tom Brady and the boys in all pewter began their first possession from the 25-yard line. Leonard Fournette got the ball on the first play of the game and got just one yard, but Brady found Cameron Brate for eight yards on second down to set up a short 3rd & 1. It went from a manageable third down to a longer one after a Josh Wells false start, then Brady missed Tyler Johnson to bring Bradley Pinion on for a punt. It was uncharacteristically a short one from Pinion, as it went for just 38 yards. After a nine-yard return, Los Angeles opened up its first drive at the 42.
Matthew Stafford missed Cooper Kupp on first down, with Devin White coming in hot and delivering a big hit on the quarterback to set the tone. Rookie running back Jake Funk got five yards on second down, but the Buccaneer defense got off the field on third down as rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, playing in place of Jason Pierre-Paul, got pressure on Stafford to force an incompletion. Johnny Hekker got off a better punt than Pinion’s on fourth down, pinning the Bucs at their own 11 with 12:11 to go in the first quarter.
Fournette got three yards on first down to start Tampa Bay’s second drive before Brady and Brate connected for a second time on second down to bring up another manageable third down. On 3rd & 2 from the 19, Brady linked up with Giovani Bernard, but Justin Hollins came up for the stop. It looked for a second as if the Bucs were considering a fourth-down try from their own 20, but instead they flipped the field. Pinion delivered a 53-yard punt, which was caught at the Rams’ 27.
Sony Michel took the place of Funk in the Los Angeles backfield to start the next drive and got the first carry, taking it for four yards. Stafford found Robert Woods for a first down on the next play, with Carlton Davis just missing an interception on a corner blitz. Tampa Bay missed another pick on the next play, with a pass over the middle going off of Kupp’s hands and into—then out of—the arms of Jamel Dean. Despite the misses, the Buccaneer defense continued to stand tall the rest of the drive. Tryon-Shoyinka tipped a second-down pass that fell incomplete, then Ross Cockrell got hit in the back with a deep ball to DeSean Jackson on third down. That brought Hekker on for another punt, which was fielded by rookie Jaelon Darden at the Bucs’ 11 and returned for four yards to the 15, which was where Brady and co. would take over for their third drive.
Tampa Bay finally broke out a play for more than 10 yards to open its next possession, with Brady finding Fournette out of the backfield before the running back broke a couple of tackles and picked up 15 yards. After a pass deflection by Aaron Donald on the next play, Brady found Chris Godwin for a gain of 17 yards to the 47-yard line. Another short four-yard pass to Fournette got the ball across midfield, then he picked up another yard on second down to set up a 3rd & 5. What was once a promising drive stalled there, as Brady looked for Rob Gronkowski deep and looked to have him, but the ball went off of the big tight end’s fingertips. Pinion then dropped a punt inside the 10 to the 9-yard line, and with a holding call backing the ball up even further, the Los Angeles offense had a long field to work with.
Michel was stuffed for no gain on first down before he got six on a dump-off one play later to set up a 3rd & 4 at the 11. Stafford did well to extend the drive from there as he found Tyler Higbee for 12 yards to the 23, then the connection with Kupp finally showed up on the following play. Kupp got wide open for a gain of 22 and Dean went down on the play, sending us to a injury timeout with the Rams driving.
Dee Delaney replaced Dean on the next play and was immediately targeted. Van Jefferson caught an 11-yard pass in front of him to get across midfield as the clock ticked under three minutes in the opening quarter. Tryon-Shoyinka came free and nearly deflected Stafford’s pass on the next play, but he couldn’t quite get to it and the ball instead went to Higbee. Jordan Whitehead forced the ball loose, but the Rams retained possession. Michel then got four yards on back-to-back plays to move the chains again, setting up a first down at the Bucs’ 31. Cockrell was called for defensive holding on the following play, giving Los Angeles another five yards. After a two-yard run by Michel to the 24, the first quarter came to an end with both teams held scoreless.
Michel picked up five more yards to start the second quarter to bring up a 3rd & 3 at the 19, then Stafford picked up the offense’s third third-down conversion of the drive by finding Woods over the middle. And after Higbee caught a six-yard pass to the 7-yard line, Michel was stuffed for a gain of one to bring up another third down, with this one coming inside the 10. On the next play, Los Angeles completed its 14-play, 95-yard drive with Stafford hitting Higbee for a six-yard touchdown.
Darden returned the ensuing kickoff to the 24, setting the offense up there in hopes of responding to that long touchdown drive. Scotty Miller caught a three-yard screen on first down before Brady missed Mike Evans deep, but the Bucs converted on 3rd & 7 with Brady finding Bernard out of the backfield. Ronald Jones II finally got his first carry of the game on the next play, picking up five yards to the 39. He got dropped for a loss of one on the next play, though, leading to another third-down conversion. This time, it was Brady and Godwin linking up for a seven-yard pickup.
An illegal formation and a pass for no gain brought up a 2nd & 15 at the 40, but the offense finally got a big play from there. Brady hit Evans for 17 yards to the Rams’ 43. Jones picked up four more yards on the next play, then Brady found Godwin for five yards to bring up 3rd & 1 at the Los Angeles 34. Jones picked up another conversion for the Bucs, getting three yards to the 31. One play later, Brady hit a wide-open Gronkowski for 26 yards down to the 5. That led to Tampa Bay’s first timeout of the afternoon with 5:27 left in the first half.
Jones was stuffed for no gain on first down after the timeout before Brady and Bernard hooked up for three yards to bring up a 3rd & Goal at the 2. And with another third down, the Bucs got another conversion, this time with Godwin getting a carry for a two-yard rushing touchdown. With Ryan Succop’s PAT, the Bucs had responded with a 15-play, 76-yard game-tying scoring drive that lasted 8:19. With 4:03 to go in the second quarter, it was a 7-7 ball game.
Going from their own 25, the Rams got to work quickly. Stafford hit Kupp for nine yards on first down, then Michel moved the chains with a four-yard run. Lavonte David and Devin White teamed up to stop Michel for a gain of only two on the next screen pass, but David was called for offsides on the following play to bring up a 2nd & 2. Cockrell and Shaquil Barrett stopped Michel for a loss of two on the next play, though, bringing up a 3rd & 4 after the two-minute warning.
Los Angeles converted another third down after the timeout, with Higbee getting open and working his way to the Tampa Bay 45. Vita Vea blew up Stafford to force an incompletion on the next play, but the Rams responded with Stafford hitting Jefferson for 21 yards to the Bucs’ 24. Cockrell broke up a pass intended for Kupp on the next play, but on second down, Stafford went after Delaney again and found Kupp all the way down to the 2. One play later, it was Stafford and Kupp teaming up for another touchdown. Woods set a pick that went unnoticed, allowing Kupp to get wide open. With Matt Gay’s PAT, the Rams were up 14-7 with 51 seconds left in the half.
With 51 seconds and two timeouts to work with, the Buccaneer offense got the ball at the 25-yard line in hopes of answering with some points before the Rams got the ball back to start the second half. Tampa Bay looked to start the drive off with a bang, as Brady found Godwin for 20 yards only to have it called back due to an extremely questionable pass interference call on Gronkowski. Nonetheless, the Bucs got those yards back two plays later. Brady found Bernard on a screen, and Bernard took it 32 yards to the 37-yard line before Tampa Bay’s second timeout at the 31-second mark. Brady and Evans linked up for 14 more yards on the next play, getting to the Rams’ 39 and stopping the clock by getting out of bounds with 25 seconds left.
After a Rams timeout, Donald hit Brady as he threw and knocked the ball loose. Bernard caught the ball and picked up the first down, but the officials ruled it a fumble and because it was within two minutes, the ball couldn’t be advanced. That backed Tampa Bay up to the 45 with 13 seconds left and after Brady found Miller for eight yards, the Bucs had to settle for a field goal attempt with three seconds to go before halftime. Succop missed badly on his 55-yard attempt, sending the game to halftime with Los Angeles on top by a score of 14-7. And in even worse news, the Rams would get the ball to start the third quarter.
The Bucs got the Rams to a quick 3rd & 10 to start the second half before disaster struck, as former Buc DeSean Jackson blew by coverage for a 75-yard touchdown catch. With the PAT, it was suddenly a 21-7 Rams lead.
A Donovan Smith false start to begin the Bucs’ next drive set things back, but Brady and Evans connected for 20 yards on the next play to make up for it. Two plays later, Gronkowski caught a 15-yard pass over the middle to get across midfield. Another two plays later, it was Brady and Evans again, this time for a pickup of 11. Gronkowski then caught a six-yard pass before being lit up with a hit to the ribs, leading to him leaving the game.
After the injury timeout for Gronkowski, Fournette caught a seven-yard pass for a first down. On the next play, Brate caught a screen that he took 17 yards down to the 1. Ryan Jensen and Tristan Wirfs were leading the convoy down the sideline to set up the big gain. From there, Brady sneaked in for a one-yard touchdown. After the PAT, it was a 21-14 game with 9:57 left in the third quarter.
The Buccaneer defense did well to force another 3rd & 10 early on the Rams’ next drive, but once again the unit failed to get off the field. Stafford hit Woods for a 20-yard gain to keep the drive alive, then three plays later on another third down, Stafford hit Jackson for another 40 yards. On the next play, it was Stafford and Kupp hooking up for another Rams touchdown to push the lead back to two touchdowns at 28-14.
O.J. Howard made his first catch of the day to start the next drive, then Brady avoided pressure and scampered for a four-yard gain to the 36. He couldn’t avoid pressure on the next play, though, as Kenny Young got to him for a nine-yard loss. A false start on Miller then meant a 3rd & 20, and there was no hope from there. Bernard caught a screen only to get dropped for a loss of four, so Pinion had to come out for a punt, which he shanked. It was a 15-yarder to the Bucs’ 37, which put even more pressure on a Buccaneer defense that was already reeling without Pierre-Paul, Murphy-Bunting and Dean.
Michel only got two yards on first down to start the next drive before Stafford missed Jefferson deep on second down, then the Bucs finally got off the field on third down by stopping Kupp two yards short of the first-down marker. But the deficit grew anyway thanks to the bad Pinion punt, and it was former Buc Matt Gay nailing a 48-yard field goal to make it 31-14 with 3:09 left in the third quarter.
The Bucs got off to a hot start on their next possession, with Brady and Tyler Johnson connecting for a 23-yard gain to the 48. Two plays later, Evans caught a 13-yard pass over the middle to the Los Angeles 39, and that was followed by another big play from Johnson, who brought in a 31-yard pass to get all the way down to the Rams’ 9. Gronkowski was back in the game for Tampa Bay by that point, and he was targeted on a 2nd & Goal play to no avail. Brady missed for a third straight time on 3rd & Goal, which led to a 26-yard field goal by Succop to bring the Bucs back within 14.
The kick is good from 26 yards out pic.twitter.com/gaNqgMsfGQ— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) September 26, 2021
Michel kept things moving for the Rams to open the next series, gaining 11 yards off the right tackle as the clock ticked under one minute in the third quarter. After a two-yard run, we came to the end of the third quarter with the Rams leading 31-17.
Kupp continued to terrorize the Buccaneer secondary to open the fourth quarter, catching passes for 17 and six yards on the first two plays. Michel got dropped short of the first-down marker on the next play to bring up a 3rd & 1, but Tampa Bay’s defense still couldn’t get off the field. A few plays later, the Rams faced another third down and they converted once again, getting to 10-of-13 on the day. A few plays later, Devin White managed to stop Kupp short of the sticks to force a 4th & 1. It looked as if the Rams were going to keep the offense on the field, but they ultimately called a timeout and settled for another Matt Gay field goal to extend the lead to 34-17 with 8:14 to go.
Darden returned the ensuing kickoff to the 24, then Brady found Evans again for 17 yards to get the ball near the 40. After a couple of incompletions and a nine-yard pass to Gronkowski, the Bucs were forced to go for it on 4th & 1 from their own 48. The attempt wasn’t close, as Brady threw too high for Bernard and Evans hadn’t turned around to find the ball yet. That gave the ball back to the Rams, who already had a 17-point lead with 7:10 to go.
After a 15-yard run by Michel, the Bucs finally got to Stafford for the first time. William Gholston took him down for a sack, pushing the Rams back to a 2nd & 22. Two plays later, the Buccaneer defense got off the field. But by that point, the clock was under five minutes and Tampa Bay still trailed 34-17.
The Rams played soft coverage the rest of the way, allowing the Bucs to put together a drive. Catches by Godwin, Bernard, Evans and Brate moved the chains before a nine-yard scramble by Brady brought us to the two-minute warning. After a fourth-down conversion, Brady was sacked again, leading Tampa Bay to call its second timeout. Nine-yard passes to Johnson and Evans got the ball inside the 10, then Brady found Bernard for a seven-yard touchdown to help some fantasy teams out and bring the score within 34-24. Bernard got hit hard and flipped on the play, leading to him walking off the field gingerly with 1:10 to go in the game.
The Bucs had two chances at recovering the ensuing onside kick, but they couldn’t come up with it. The Rams drained the rest of the clock from there and walked away with a 34-24 win and a 3-0 record as the Bucs dropped to 2-1.
Quick Notes & Stats
- Tom Brady was 17-of-22 for 172 yards in the first half, getting himself over the 80,000-yard mark for his career. He finished the day with 432 yards and a touchdown on 41-of-55 passing and found the end zone on a quarterback sneak.
- Mike Evans was the Bucs’ leading receiver, catching eight passes for 106 yards.
- Chris Godwin caught six passes for 74 yards in the loss, and Tyler Johnson had a solid 63 yards on three receptions as well.
- Pressure on the quarterback was a story on Sunday, with the Bucs getting to Matthew Stafford just once (late in the game) and the Rams taking Brady down three times.
- Brady was Tampa Bay’s leading rusher, totaling 14 yards on three carries.
- Stafford had his way with the Buccaneer secondary, completing 27 of his 38 passes for 343 yards and four touchdowns.
- DeSean Jackson finished as the Rams’ leading receiver, putting up 120 yards and a score on three catches.
- Cooper Kupp was the biggest factor in the Rams’ receiving corps, catching nine passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
- Third-down efficiency was key for the Rams all day, but especially in the first half as they went 5-of-7. Those conversions were key on their two scoring drives, with one being a 95-yard drive in 14 plays and the other going 75 yards in 10 plays. For the day, they were 10-of-15 on third downs. The Bucs, on the other hand, were just 6-of-13.
- Penalties were an issue again for Tampa Bay, as it was flagged seven times for 41 yards while Los Angeles was flagged once for four yards.
- With the loss, the Bucs’ winning streak came to an end at 10 games. Sunday marked their first loss since Nov. 29, 2020.
The Buccaneers (2-1) return to the field next Sunday night in Foxborough, with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski making their long-awaited returns to square off against Bill Belichick and the Patriots (1-2). Kickoff for the Sunday Night Football matchup is set for 8:20 p.m.