Sunday’s NFC division playoff game at Raymond James Stadium now has a redemptive undercurrent.
The Rams, one of only three teams to defeat the Bucs this season (Saints did it twice), will travel three time zones on a short week to face the reigning Super Bowl champs Sunday at 3 p.m. The Rams topped the Bucs 34-24 in Week 3 at SoFi Stadium in a contest that left tight end Rob Gronkowski with fractured ribs, a punctured lung and no game action for more than a month.
Los Angeles advanced to the division round with a 34-11 victory Monday night against the Cardinals at home.
Veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford had arguably his finest game of the season against the Bucs, finishing 27-of-38 for 343 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He had as many picks (eight) as touchdown passes in the regular season’s final four weeks before an efficient effort against the Cardinals (two TDs, no picks) for his first postseason victory in four tries.
His cast of skill players currently is more diverse than Tom Brady’s.
Receiver Cooper Kupp, Stafford’s top target in the win against the Bucs (nine catches, 96 yards, two TDs), became the first player since 2005 to lead the NFL in catches (145), receiving yards (1,947) and touchdown receptions (16) in the regular season. Three-time Pro Bowler Odell Beckham Jr. joined the team in mid-November.
And 800-yard rusher Sony Michel recently was re-joined by second-year running back Cam Akers. The former FSU star, who ruptured his Achilles tendon in July, returned for the regular-season finale and totaled 95 yards (55 rushing, 40 receiving) against the Cardinals.
Complementing the offense is one of football’s fiercest pass rushes, led by seven-time first-team all-pro Aaron Donald. The Rams, who will face a banged-up Bucs offensive line Sunday, finished third in the NFL with 50 sacks in the regular season, including three of Brady.
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls
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