By: Michelle Sabin
Sports Talk Florida
All good things must come to an end. For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their shot at defending the Super Bowl crown ended with a heartbreaking loss to the Rams.
“Obviously, not the final that we wanted,” Head Coach Bruce Arians said, “At halftime, we knew [we needed] to come back and get this thing to where it was. To lose it like that, it’s hard.” Quarterback Tom Brady echoed this sentiment, adding, “it’s tough to lose a game that comes down at the end like that, but it’s just the reality of pro football. It’s a tough sport, it’s tough to win.”
Los Angeles came out swinging in the first half putting up 20 points, including a 70-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cooper Kupp. A foreshadow for what was to come at the end of the game.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers offense struggled to find their rhythm. Under pressure in the pass game, Tom Brady repeatedly over and under threw his usual arsenal of receivers, including Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans. The Rams simply overpowered the Bucs o-line and added pressure with a wide-9 rush.
Tampa Bay settled for a 45-yard field goal in the first quarter and went scoreless through the second allowing the Rams to lead 20-3 at the half.
In the third quarter, the Rams continued to dominate after punt returner Brandon Powell gave them favorable field position with a 33-yard return. Quarterback Matt Stafford quickly moved into the red zone with short passes to Kupp, Kendall Blanton, and Odell Beckham, Jr. The Bucs temporarily contained running back Cam Akers on the drive, but could not stop Stafford from taking in a 1-yard touchdown run.
Brady made an attempt to respond on the Bucs next possession. He threw short passes to Evans and O.J. Howard and then a 42-yard deep pass to Gronkowski. However, inside the 20-yard line with two incomplete passes and a one-yard loss on Fournette’s rush, the Buccaneers were forced to take a 31-yard field goal. They were barely moving the needle as the score was 27-6.
The tide shifted at the end of the third and into the fourth quarter. On a short pass to Kupp, cornerback Jamel Dean forced a fumble. The ball was recovered by Sean Murphy-Bunting who ran it to the 30-yard line. The Bucs made good on the turnover when Fournette walked in a 1-yard touchdown and Raymond James stadium came alive as the score narrowed 27-13.
The fourth quarter proved to be the most hectic of them all. The Bucs got the ball back after the Rams went three and out. Brady was sacked on his first snap. He fumbled the ball and the Rams recovered it at the Tampa Bay 25-yard line.
The possession was short-lived for the Rams, as Stafford wasn’t ready for the first snap and it went right over his shoulder. Stafford and linebacker Shaquil Barrett chased down the ball in the backfield, but it eventually found its way to Bucs linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul for the fumble recovery.
Despite getting the ball back, very little progress was made. Brady was sacked and Tampa Bay failed to convert on 4th and 14 with a deep pass intended for Evans.
Two possessions later, Brady found Evans for a 55-yard touchdown. After Ryan Succop’s extra point, the Buccaneers were closing in on the lead 27-20. The energy in Raymond James electrified from the home crowd.
Lineman Ndamukong Suh added fuel to the fire when he forced another fumble from Cam Akers recovered by Lavonte David at the Los Angeles 30-yard line. On 4th and 1, inside the two minute warning, the Buccaneers were able to tie the game on a 9-yard touchdown run by Fournette.
Unfortunately, destiny intervened as Stafford got the ball back with 42 seconds on the clock. After being sacked by Suh and Pierre-Paul on first down, Stafford got back up and threw a 20-yard pass to Kupp down to the Rams 44-yard line.
On the next play, instead of playing zone to defend the deep ball, the Bucs decided to all-out blitz. However, the call didn’t get communicated to everyone and Arians said “some guys didn’t blitz.”
Ultimately, zone coverage allowed Kupp to navigate past the secondary and left only Winfield backpedaling to cover. Kupp made the 44-yard reception and put the Rams in field goal range. Kicker Matt Gay, who was drafted by the Buccaneers in 2019, got the field goal and advanced the Rams to the NFC Championship game.
The Buccaneers reign came to an end after a 14-5 season complicated with injuries and inspired by resiliency. It was a journey the team will not soon forget. The only question that remains is who will stay, who will go and who may retire. Only time will tell.
As for Brady, he said, “I haven’t put a lot of thought into it, so you know, we will just take it day by day and kind of see where we are at.”
The videos used in this story were provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Youtube channel.