Bucs-Rams: Five things you might have missed ...
ST. LOUIS — The Bucs took a prime-time loss at the hands of the Rams, all but ending any playoff hopes they still had, but here are five things you might not have noticed:
1. Just like against the Saints defense Sunday, the Bucs made the Rams offense look great. St. Louis had just one touchdown pass in the previous six games — an NFL-low eight all season — and Case Keenum had two in the first quarter against the Bucs.
A passing offense that had gone over 200 yards once in the previous 12 games had 175 at the half, with Keenum with a near-perfect QB rating. He threw only four passes in the second half, finishing 14 for 17 for 234 yards and a 158.0 QB rating.
"That's something we didn't expect," DT Gerald McCoy said of the Rams being able to throw the ball on the Bucs defense. "I don't know. I have to watch to see what happened."
2. It's hard to imagine Alterraun Verner being back with the Bucs in 2016. Verner, having lost his starting cornerback job, looked to have a new role carved out as the nickel, but he was shifted to backup cornerback this week. In the second half, he stood on the sidelines, not even a helmet in his hand, as if knowing he wasn't going into the game.
Johnthan Banks looks to have finally gotten out of Lovie Smith's doghouse, moving into a three-man rotation at corner Thursday, but Verner seems to have taken his spot on the sidelines. Due to make $6.75 million next year with no cap hit if he's cut, you have to think the Bucs move on with Verner after this season.
3. Donteea Dye learned a lesson. Even if you think you're down, don't hold up the ball after a huge gain inside the 5-yard line. Dye caught a 44-yard pass, thought he'd been touched down and held the ball up, only to have a Rams defender knock it loose.
Fortunately for the Bucs, tight end Luke Stocker was there and jumped on the loose ball at the 3. He was rewarded with a touchdown catch on the next play — his first score since 2012.
"He saved my life right there," Dye said of Stocker's recovery. "That's on me."
Stocker said he was running toward Dye to celebrate his catch, saw the play hadn't been whistled dead and was fortunate to land on the loose ball.
"It's a bittersweet moment for me, but any time you can score a touchdown for your team, it's great," Stocker said.
4. Red-zone offense remains a real problem for the Bucs. Tampa Bay outgained the Rams on Thursday, but had to settle for three too often. Stopped on fourth and 1 at the Rams' 23, then stalling twice — down 21-3, the Bucs had first and goal at the 6, lost 3 yards, got a delay penalty and threw two incompletions.
Down 31-13 in the fourth, Winston went incomplete three straight plays from the 6-yard line, again taking a field goal. So that's three trips inside the Rams' 25, and instead of 21 points, the Bucs got six, in what ended up an eight-point loss.
"We just couldn't score in the red zone," receiver Mike Evans said. "That killed us right there."
5. Mike Jenkins didn't give up. Jenkins is in a tough spot, benched at cornerback and shifted to backup nickel this week, but playing special teams, he came up with a four-point play in the fourth quarter.
Rams returner Benny Cunningham, from his own end zone, weaved through the Bucs for a 102-yard kickoff return, but it was Jenkins that finally brought him down at the 3-yard line. Add three stops of Todd Gurley by the Bucs goal-line defense and the Rams had to settle for a 19-yard field goal, still enough to put them up three scores with under 11 minutes left.
"The only thing that was going through my head was not to let the guy score," Jenkins said. "All I can do is give effort. If you can't give effort in this game, you shouldn't be playing. … I'm the last (defender) on the team and everybody's relying on me, so that's my job to get him down."