Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Bucs' season appears over after loss at Rams

ST. LOUIS — So much was lost by the Bucs in the 31-23 whuppin' they took from the Rams on Thursday night. They lost their second game in five days. They lost their chance for a winning season. They almost assuredly lost the last sliver of hope to stay alive for a wild-card spot and will be officially eliminated if the Vikings and Seahawks win Sunday.

They lost their heart and, judging from all the pushing and shoving, they lost their heads.

More than anything, they blew a chance to show the Show Me State and national TV audience they are not the same ol' Bucs that was the worst team in the NFL and embarrassed in their only prime time game a year ago.

Now the party is over, and the promise, it seems, all but gone, too.

"I thought we would play better from start to finish,'' coach Lovie Smith said. "Tonight we didn't see a lot to be excited about.''

How bad were the Bucs, who made the final score respectable with two late touchdowns but failed to recover an onside kick after Jameis Winston's 9-yard scoring pass to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins with 1:34 left?

Rams quarterback Case Keenum, who had passed for one touchdown all season and was best known for being concussed, passed for 175 yards and two scores in the first half alone. His 60-yard scoring bomb to Kenny Britt was the longest play against the Bucs all season.

"The bad thing is we knew what was at stake,'' Bucs linebacker Lavonte David said. "We let this game get away from us."

Meanwhile, Winston, who had a chance to stake his claim to the NFL's offensive rookie of the year award, was ineffective against a swarming defense. He went 6-of-12 for 49 yards in the first half and was whacked on nearly every attempt before he settled in. He finished 29-for-50 for 363 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, setting career highs for completions, attempts and yards.

"One of those days; we had plenty of opportunities," Winston said. "First half I didn't play well enough to win. Got to learn a lesson.

"Our playoff hopes are probably done. But we got a lot to play for. Our mentality doesn't change."

Only running back Doug Martin, who passed the Vikings' Adrian Peterson to take over the league's rushing lead, played his game for the Bucs. He finished with 91 yards on 18 carries.

But even Martin's night was soured when he lost a fumble to start the second half.

The optics weren't good for this game, in which each team wore their color-rush jerseys. The Rams were in mustard yellow, the Bucs in ketchup red. So naturally, yes, the Bucs played catch-up all night.

This was likely the Rams' last game in St. Louis. Their owner, Stan Kroenke, has announced plans to move to Los Angeles.

If you think the Bucs have struggled, consider that the Rams, who moved to St. Louis in 1995, have not had a winning season since 2003. Fans broke out chants of "Beat L.A.'' and Kroenke (stinks).'

Only twice this season had the Rams passed for 200 yards. When Keenum did that in the first half, the rout was on.

This game went bad from the start. The Rams' Bennie Cunningham returned the opening kickoff to the 43-yard line. Six plays later, Tavon Austin was in the end zone after taking a screen pass 17 yards for a touchdown.

Connor Barth got the Bucs within 7-3 with a 53-yard field goal with 4:52 left in the first quarter. But rookie cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah was beaten on a double move by Britt for the long touchdown, and Todd Gurley scored on a 3-yard run.

The Bucs had one drive end when Martin was dropped for a 2-yard loss on fourth and 1 from the Rams 23. Another promising march to start the second half was bogged down by penalties and a dropped pass in the end zone by rookie Donteea Dye.

Austin got his second touchdown on an end-around. The Bucs weren't really missing tackles as much as making business decisions. For good measure, the Bucs gave up a 102-yard kickoff return to Cunningham to set up another Rams field goal.

Think back to Sunday, when the Bucs were 6-6 and playing the struggling Saints, whom they already had beaten in New Orleans. They were in the playoff race. A winning record seemed likely. Raymond James Stadium was full, the sun was out and the birds were singing.


Well, at 6-8, the Bucs would need a win at home against Chicago in 10 days and an upset at Carolina just to break even.

Look, if the Bucs win even the next two games, taking a helicopter view of the season, you would have to say it was a success.

The Bucs have their franchise quarterback in Winston, who never stopped fighting, throwing a touchdown pass to Luke Stocker to start the fourth quarter to cap a 98-yard drive. Receiver Mike Evans is showing signs of coming back to life. If they can re-sign Martin, that position is set.

"Disappointment tonight. But big picture, we are heading in the right direction," Smith said. "We still haven't played our best ball. There's a lot to finish strong for."

As Smith says, how you finish matters. Well, they look finished. That's a shame, because the season sure seemed like the start of something.

Bucs' season appears over after loss at Rams 12/17/15 [Last modified: Friday, December 18, 2015 12:29am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays journal: Kevin Kiermaier returns, Mallex Smith sent to Triple A

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Four batters into his return from a lengthy stay on the disabled list CF Kevin Kiermaier found himself embroiled in a "did he" or "didn't he" debate Friday.

    Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, back after missing 61 games with right hip and back problems, says he wants to bring energy to the Rays. Mallex Smith is optioned to Triple-A Durham.
  2. Rays vs. Mariners, 6:10 p.m. Saturday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Mariners

    6:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    This is a 2017 photo of Jake Odorizzi of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team. This image reflects the 2017 active roster as of Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017 when this image was taken. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  3. Bucs journal: Starting defense disappointed holding Jags to 1 rushing yard


    JACKSONVILLE — The Bucs' starting defense held the Jaguars to a total of 1 rushing yard on seven carries in the first half of Thursday's 12-8 preseason win.

    And its members were disappointed.

    Jacksonville Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon (24) is thrown for a 1-yard loss as he is stopped by Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David (54) and defensive end Robert Ayers (91) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) JVS102
  4. Jameis Winston's hardest lesson: He can't always save the day


    TAMPA — Ever wonder what in the world goes through Jameis Winston's mind when he tries to fit the ball in a keyhole as he is being dragged to the turf like he was during Thursday night's 12-8 preseason win over the Jaguars?

    Jameis Winston, left, tries to hang on to the ball as Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler tries to strip it from him.
  5. Florida starter under center still under wraps


    GAINESVILLE — With two weeks before Florida opens its season against Michigan, the Gators' three-way quarterback battle remains wide open.

    Luke Del Rio, right, is in the mix to start against Michigan in the season opener … as is Malik Zaire and Feleipe Franks.