It was a night of goodbyes Thursday in St. Louis. While the Rams, who are likely to move to Los Angeles next season, were saying goodbye to their home for the past 20 years, the Buccaneers were saying goodbye to their playoff chances.
Five days ago, the playoffs were a real possibility, especially with the Saints and their league-worst defense and the Rams and their league-worst offense on the schedule. But then the Bucs offense stalled in a 24-17 loss to the Saints. And last night, in a loss not nearly as close as the 31-23 final score indicates, the defense made Rams quarterback Case Keenum look like an All-Pro. In what might become a recurring Turning Point feature, consider the following bewildering statistics:
Before Thursday: The Rams offense averaged 1.5 touchdowns per game and never scored more than three.
Thursday: It scored two touchdowns in the first quarter and four total.
Before Thursday: The Rams averaged 173.1 passing yards per game, reaching 200 yards just twice in 13 games.
Thursday: Keenum reached 200 yards one pass into the third quarter and finished with 234.
Before Thursday: Keenum completed 60 percent of his passes three times in 12 career starts. His average: 55 percent. His single-game high: 71.4 percent.
Thursday: He completed 14 of 17 passes, or 82.4 percent, and almost had a perfect quarterback rating (158.0).
Before Thursday: Keenum threw an interception in eight of his past nine starts.
Thursday: He did not throw an interception. The Bucs failed to force a turnover for the second straight game and third in four games. They've lost each game.
Before Thursday: The Rams struggled getting the ball down the field, averaging 5.5 net yards per pass attempt.
Thursday: The Rams more than doubled that against the Bucs, averaging 13 net yards per pass attempt. It is, of course, a career high for Keenum.
Before Thursday: The Bucs allowed three plays of 40 or more yards, fewest in the NFL.
Thursday: Keenum connected with Kenny Britt on a 60-yard touchdown pass, the longest play against the Bucs this season. (Blake Bortles threw a 59-yard pass in October.)
While the 60-yarder to Britt is only the fourth play of 40 or more yards against the Bucs this season, it's the second in as many games. Like Drew Brees' 41-yard pass to Willie Snead on third-and-21 on Sunday, Britt's catch was not only a surprise but also a crushing blow — the Bucs' win probability fell from 31 percent after their field goal to 14.1 percent after the touchdown and gradually declined from there.
When Keenum dropped the pass over rookie Jude Adjei-Barimah, you knew it was over. The play. The game. The season.
And so your mind probably turned toward the offseason and how the Bucs might approach free agency and the draft. Finding cornerbacks and edge rushers must be top priorities. That much was apparent on the Britt touchdown drive, which started at the St. Louis 18-yard line.
Such long scoring drives aren't part of the Rams' repertoire. Before Thursday, St. Louis had 12 scoring drives of 75 or more yards, tied for last with the Minnesota Vikings. Against the Bucs, the Rams sustained three scoring drives of 75 or more yards, the first time they've done so since Week 1.
So how did the Rams pull off the stunning 60-yarder? A dash of deception and a double move.
After a Tavon Austin run of 15 yards and a Tre Mason run of 7 yards, the Rams set up at the 40-yard line with two tight ends — potential blocking help — on the right side of the offensive line. With two tight ends and Keenum under center, it looked as though the Rams might run the ball again. Against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, he only occasionally attempted a pass when lined up under center — 16 of his 22 passes came from the shotgun formation.
The Bucs started with two safeties deep, but Bradley McDougald came down from the strong safety side. After the snap, the other safety, Chris Conte moved to the middle of the field; the Bucs were playing Cover 3, a zone coverage in which the cornerbacks on the outside and the single high safety are each responsible for defending passes into their third of the field.
The two receivers, Britt on the left and Austin on the right, stutter stepped on their routes. Britt's move momentarily froze Adjei-Barimah, and the receiver gained 2 crucial yards of separation. Note how differently Adjei-Barimah and Johnthan Banks play the routes.
It's been a rough stretch of games for Adjei-Barimah. Brees targeted him seven times, completing all seven passes for 109 yards and a touchdown, according to Pro Football Focus. The week before, Matt Hasselbeck targeted him 11 times, completing eight passes for 71 yards and a touchdown.
Perhaps the Bucs were caught offguard by Keenum's deep throw. To that point, none of his four passes had traveled beyond 5 yards, which was consistent with his play against the Lions. On Sunday, 14 of his 22 passes traveled fewer than 10 yards and only three (one complete) traveled beyond 20 yards.
A quick word on Week 16
You might hear this week and next about how the Bucs will benefit from the extra days between the Rams game and their upcoming game against the Chicago Bears. That might be true from an injury standpoint, but in terms of wins and losses, teams that play on Thursdays gain no advantage. Since the NFL expanded its Thursday schedule in 2012, teams are 64-70 (0.477) the following week (the Bucs are 2-1 in that span).
Team records after playing on Thursday
* Includes New York Giants win and Dallas Cowboys loss after their Wednesday season opener
Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.