If you are viewing this story via our mobile app and are unable to see videos and tweets, click here.
Matt Gay’s 30-yard field goal as time expired erased a 24-point Bucs comeback and lifted the Rams to a 30-27 victory in an NFC division-round playoff game Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Matthew Stafford set up Gay’s kick with completions of 20 and 44 yards to Cooper Kupp as Los Angeles drove from its 25-yard line to the Tampa Bay 12 in the game’s final 42 seconds.
The Rams will host the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game next weekend at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., site of Super Bowl 56.
Leonard Fournette’s 9-yard touchdown run around right end on fourth and 1 with 42 seconds remaining completed the Bucs’ comeback from a 24-point deficit as they tied the game at 27.
Los Angeles fumbled four times and missed a field goal to allow Tampa Bay back into the game.
Fournette started the Bucs’ comeback with a 1-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. Tom Brady’s 55-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans down the right sideline with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth brought the Bucs back to within 27-20.
Ndamukong Suh then forced a Cam Akers fumble that Lavonte David recovered at the Rams 30, giving the Bucs a chance to tie.
Ryan Succop kicked field goals of 45 and 31 yards for the Bucs.
Brady completed 30 of 54 passes for 329 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also lost a fumble. Evans had eight receptions for a team-leading 119 yards and a touchdown. Fournette finished with 107 total yards and two rushing touchdowns on 22 touches.
Lavonte David had a team-high 11 tackles, including seven unassisted, and recovered a fumble. Antoine Winfield Jr. had nine tackles, including a team-leading eight unassisted, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Stay updated on the Buccaneers
Subscribe to our free Bucs RedZone newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Stafford threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as the Rams built a 27-3, third-quarter lead. He had scoring passes of 70 yards to Kupp and 7 to tight end Kendall Blanton and ran 1 yard for another score.
In addition to the game-winner, Gay, a former Buc, kicked field goals of 40 and 26 yards for Los Angeles.
The Rams had a chance to go ahead by 24 late in the first half, but Winfield forced and recovered an Akers fumble at the Bucs 1, keeping Tampa Bay’s deficit at 17.
Here’s how it happened:
Bleeding the clock
Their lead looking more tenuous by the minute, the Rams went back to their ground game midway through the fourth quarter to try to run some time off the clock.
Van Jefferson ran for 15 yards and Cam Akers for 8 to pick up first downs before Jefferson took a short Matthew Stafford pass 18 yards down the right sideline to the Bucs 31.
The Rams hoped to make it a three-score game, but Matt Gay’s 47-yard field goal attempt was short, giving the Bucs the ball back at their 37 down by 14 with 6:31 still to play.
Tampa Bay drove to the Los Angeles 31 before turning the ball over on downs.
In a span of two plays, the Rams seemed to regain control of the game before immediately returning momentum to the Bucs.
One play after Von Miller beat Donovan Smith around the edge and stripped the ball from Tom Brady, recovering at the Tampa Bay 25, Brian Allen’s shotgun snap eluded Matthew Stafford and Jason Pierre-Paul recovered at the Los Angeles 45.
The Bucs drove to the Rams 27 before turning over the ball on downs, Brady’s fourth-down pass eluding Mike Evans deep downfield.
Los Angeles safety Eric Weddle was penalized for unnecessary roughness after the play, pushing the Rams back to their 21.
The Bucs got their best chance to get back in the game when Jamel Dean forced a Cooper Kupp fumble late in the third quarter and Sean Murphy-Bunting recovered at the Rams 30.
The drive appeared to stall when Tampa Bay faced fourth and 9 from the 29. But Tom Brady connected with Scotty Miller for 16 yards and a first down at the 13.
Three plays later, Leonard Fournette scored on a 1-yard run over right tackle, bringing the Bucs back to within 27-13 with 12 seconds left in the third quarter.
When everything else seems to be going against him, Tom Brady knows he can depend on tight end Rob Gronkowski.
With the Bucs trailing by 24 late in the third quarter, Brady found his longtime teammate on a 42-yard pass play that moved the ball from the Tampa Bay 35-yard line to the Los Angeles 23, easily the Bucs’ biggest play of the game.
An 11-yard completion to Mike Evans moved the ball to the Rams 12.
But after Leonard Fournette was dropped for a 1-yard loss and Brady threw two incompletions, the Bucs settled for Ryan Succop’s second field goal of the game, from 31 yards, and a 27-6 deficit with just over three minutes to play in the third quarter.
Already leading by 17, the Rams put themselves in position to add to their lead when Brandon Powell’s 33-yard punt return early in the third quarter gave them the ball at the Bucs 28.
Matthew Stafford passes of 11 yards to Kendall Blanton, 4 to Cooper Kupp and 10 Odell Beckham Jr. quickly moved the ball to the 3.
After two Cam Akers runs netted just 2 yards, Stafford scored on a quarterback sneak to extend the Rams lead to 27-3 with just over seven minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Suddenly, that Antoine Winfield Jr. fumble recovery at the end of the first half seems less significant.
Dodging a bullet
Tom Brady typically owns the final two minutes of the first half, regularly driving the Bucs downfield for add-on points.
But it was an uncharacteristic mistake by Brady that put the Rams in that position.
And nearly put the Bucs hopelessly behind.
Safety Nick Scott intercepted a Brady pass intended for Rob Gronkowski at the Tampa Bay 31-yard line with just under two minutes remaining in the half.
The Rams quickly drove to the Bucs 6, where they had a first down and a chance to go up by 24 points.
But Tampa Bay safety Antoine Winfield Jr. forced and recovered a Cam Akers fumble after a 5-yard run around right end, giving the Bucs the ball back at their 1. The call on the field was that Akers was down on the play, but the ruling was overturned following a replay review.
The Bucs knelt on the ball, running out the clock to preserve their 17-point first-half deficit.
The Bucs offense finally seemed to find some rhythm during a mid-second quarter drive.
Tom Brady looked to Mike Evans, connecting with the veteran receiver four times for 41 yards as Tampa Bay moved to the Los Angeles 43-yard line.
After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Brady pushed the Bucs back, Brady lobbed a pass down the right side that Leonard Fournette ran under for a 20-yard gain to the Rams 31.
But Tampa Bay got no further, as Fournette was stopped after a 1-yard gain and Brady threw incomplete twice before Ryan Succop’s 48-yard field goal attempt missed wide right.
Deja vu all over again
Just like the first meeting between the teams, when DeSean Jackson got behind the Bucs defense and hauled in a 75-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles took advantage of a miscommunication in the Tampa Bay secondary on a long scoring play.
This time, it was Cooper Kupp getting behind cornerback Carlton Davis down the right sideline, then juking safety Mike Edwards on his way into the end zone, giving the Rams a two-touchdown lead early in the second quarter.
Bucs linebacker Lavonte David was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for slamming his helmet to the ground after the play.
On the board, at last
As on their opening possession, Leonard Fournette gave the Bucs a much-needed spark during a late first-quarter drive that finally put them on the scoreboard.
Fournette’s 13-yard catch-and-run gave Tampa Bay a first down at its 38-yard line.
A 29-yard pass from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski over the middle moved the ball to the Rams 33.
Three plays later, Ryan Succop kicked a 45-yard field goal to give the Bucs their first points of the game.
Back to the air
After the Bucs went three and out on their second possession, the Rams were back on the move.
Matthew Stafford connected with Odell Beckham Jr. for 9 yards and Jamel Dean was penalized for pass interference, moving the ball to the Bucs 46.
A 9-yard pass to Tyler Higbee advanced the Rams to the 37. Another Tampa Bay penalty, an unsportsmanlike conduct call against defensive end Ndamukong Suh helped LA to the 18.
Cam Akers ran for 9 yards around left end, taking the ball to the 9. After Stafford sneaked for a first down, the quarterback threw a short pass to tight end Kendall Blanton, who went untouched into the end zone to complete a 7-yard scoring play.
Los Angeles leads 10-0 with 3:28 remaining in the first quarter.
Finding higher ground
Unlike the Bucs, the Rams started out throwing.
Matthew Stafford passed on Los Angeles’ first three plays from scrimmage, quickly picking up 32 yards to the Bucs 48.
After a holding penalty forced the Rams into a first-and-20 situation from their 42, Stafford connected with Odell Beckham Jr. for 20 yards to the Tampa Bay 38.
Stafford then found Tyler Higbee for 29 yards deep over the middle on the next play, giving the Rams a first down at the Bucs 9.
But Tampa Bay’s defense tightened up, stopping Cam Akers after a 1-yard gain and then causing two incomplete passes. Los Angeles was forced to settle for Matt Gay’s 26-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Going to the ground
Leonard Fournette, who missed the past four games with a hamstring injury, quickly made up for lost time, carrying the ball on the Bucs’ first three plays from scrimmage.
He gained 11 yards off right tackle and 10 over left guard to pick up first downs on the first two plays. His third carry resulted in a 2-yard gain up the middle.
Alas, the Bucs should have stayed on the ground, as Tom Brady passes for Scotty Miller and Rob Gronkowski were incomplete, forcing the Bucs to punt.
Opportunity knocks for the Bucs
It’s all right there for the taking. With the 49ers upsetting the Packers Saturday in Green Bay, the Bucs became the highest-remaining seed in the NFC. The road to the Super Bowl will go though Tampa.
But first, the Bucs have take care of business of their own.
Beat the Rams in the division round today at Raymond James Stadium, and Tampa Bay will host the NFC title game next weekend, with the winner advancing to Super Bowl 56. Not only that, but they’ll be playing a lower-seeded team to get there, sixth-seeded San Francisco.
Thanks to the Niners, the second-seeded Bucs can advance to the Super Bowl without having to face either the No. 1 (Packers) or No. 3 (Cowboys) seeds in the NFC. In fact, they’ll have faced three of the four lowest-seeded teams (No. 4 Rams, No. 6 Niners, No. 7 Eagles) in the conference.
Not that they need the help. Not only are the Bucs the defending Super Bowl champions, they are the deepest and, when healthy, most talented team in the field.
Of course, the No. 4 Rams might disagree, and made a loud statement on their own behalf the first time the teams met this season, beating the Bucs 34-24 in September. Matthew Stafford passed for 343 yards and four touchdowns in a game in which the Bucs had to abandon their rushing attack.
Much has changed since that game.
The Bucs have lost wide receivers Chris Godwin (injury) and Antonio Brown (release) but got back tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was injured in the September game. Running back Leonard Fournette is back after missing four games with a hamstring injury, as is most of their defense, though they will be without tackle Tristan Wirfs.
The Rams, meanwhile, released receiver DeSean Jackson, who had a 75-yard touchdown catch in the first game against the Bucs, and will be without injured tackle Andrew Whitworth and safety Taylor Rapp, causing Los Angeles to lure safety Eric Weddle out of retirement.
We’ve also seen what happens when the Tom Brady-led Bucs face a team in the playoffs that defeated them in the regular season, having turned the tables on the Saints and Chiefs on their way to a Super Bowl championship last season.
Can they do it again against the Rams? The team that is trying to follow the Bucs’ blueprint to a title?
Start with a stout defense. Shed your first-round quarterback (Jared Goff) in favor of a proven veteran (Stafford). Add a game-breaking receiver (Odell Beckham Jr.) to an already talented tandem (Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods). Grab quality complementary pieces (edge rusher Von Miller) when the opportunities present themselves.
All in an effort to win a Super Bowl in your home stadium (SoFi Stadium).
Can the Bucs crash that party? More than at any other point this season, they control their own destiny.
But first, there’s work to be done.
All-Pro tackle Wirfs inactive
TAMPA — The Bucs will face the Rams without All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs, among seven players deemed inactive for today’s 3 p.m. NFC division playoff game.
Also not suiting up: injured receivers Breshad Perriman (abdominal muscle) and Cyril Grayson (hamstring), injured tailback Ronald Jones (ankle), reserve cornerback Pierre Desir and backup quarterbacks Kyle Trask and Ryan Griffin.
Read Joey Knight’s full story here.
Game day scene
More ways to follow us
Follow our Bucs Instagram account at @TampaBayTimesBucs
A read on the game
Here’s some of our content leading up to today’s game:
• • •
Sign up for the Bucs RedZone newsletter to get updates and analysis on the latest team and NFL news from Bucs beat writer Joey Knight.