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Well before ex-Buc Matt Gay’s walkoff, Bucs kicked themselves

Tampa Bay’s special teams founder in Sunday’s division-round playoff loss to the Rams.
Rams kicker Matt Gay, a former Buc, kicks the winning field goal to send Tampa Bay to a 30-27 loss in an NFC division game Sunday.
Rams kicker Matt Gay, a former Buc, kicks the winning field goal to send Tampa Bay to a 30-27 loss in an NFC division game Sunday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 24|Updated Jan. 24

TAMPA — Fate seemingly wasn’t satisfied with the Bucs’ own special teams self-infliction. It had to give the figurative knife a final, fatal twist.

So on a day in which Tampa Bay’s unit underwhelmed in every facet, from tepid return yardage to kickoffs out of bounds to a missed field goal, it also had to watch a former beleaguered peer redeem himself in a Rams uniform.

Yep, that was Matt Gay — who shoehorned a career full of heartbreak into one abysmal season in Tampa Bay as a rookie in 2019 — drilling the winning 30-yard field goal as time expired in the Rams’ 30-27 playoff triumph.

“He’s been great, he’s been clutch,” said Rams coach Sean McVay, who watched Gay’s 47-yard try fall short earlier in the fourth. “I’m so glad for him that he got the opportunity to come back from an uncharacteristic miss.”

Such was the ironic epilogue for the Bucs’ most abysmal special teams effort of the season.

Prior to the walkoff by Gay, who missed three field goals in his final game in pewter, the Bucs spent the better part of a bright, crisp afternoon gift-wrapping short fields to the Rams, whose average starting field position was their own 39.

Bradley Pinion sent two kickoffs wobbling out of bounds, giving the Rams possession at the 40 (with one of those drives ending in a touchdown). Additionally, the Bucs surrendered a 33-yard punt return to former Gator Brandon Powell (setting up another TD), while totaling 7 yards on two punt returns of their own.

And veteran kicker Ryan Succop missed his sixth field goal of the season, a 48-yarder in the second quarter with his team down by two touchdowns.

“It’s going to take all three phases,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said.

“There were times that all three were good, and then there were times when a kickoff goes out of bounds, giving them the ball at the 40 and things like that. That’s tough sledding, but we still had (the game tied) with 40 seconds.”

The question now becomes whether Sunday’s assorted gaffes prompt special teams changes in a projected transitional offseason for the franchise. Succop, who made no kick longer than 48 yards this season, could be challenged by 2020 Lou Groza Award winner Jose Borregales, a practice-squad fixture.

Darden, who exited with what appeared to be his second concussion of the year, had no return longer than 43 yards and made no dent as a receiver (six catches). Pinion, whose 2021 performance ranged from stable to shaky, has a season remaining on his four-year deal.

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Helping expedite those questions was Gay, who sent his own Tampa Bay torment sailing into oblivion, by way of the north end zone uprights.

“Special teams came out and executed the way they’ve done so many times this year in big-time moments for us,” Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “It was huge.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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