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Tom Brady’s 1-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Cade Otton with nine seconds remaining lifted the Bucs to a 16-13, come-from-behind victory over the Rams Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Tampa Bay (4-5) snapped a three-game losing streak and, with Atlanta’s loss to the Chargers, moved back into a tie with the Falcons (4-5) for first place in the NFC South. The Bucs hold the tiebreaker advantage.
Trailing by 4 with 44 seconds remaining, Brady completed five of six passes on a seven-play, 60-yard scoring drive to put the Bucs ahead for the first time since the first quarter.
A 28-yard pass down the middle of the field to Otton got the drive started, and Brady followed with completions of 4 yards to running back Leonard Fournette, and 14 and 7 to wide receiver Scotty Miller before a pass-interference penalty against Rams cornerback Derion Kendrick, who was covering receiver Mike Evans in the end zone, gave Tampa Bay a first down at the 1.
Brady then took a shotgun snap, faked a handoff to Fournette and took a few steps to his right before tossing the ball to Otton. The tight end, who had released out to his right, caught the ball, beat Kendrick to the corner and went untouched into the end zone, reaching the ball across the goal line.
Until the touchdown toss, Ryan Succop field goals of 20, 38 and 50 yards had accounted for the Bucs’ only points.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford completed a 69-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp in the first half, and Matt Gay added field goals of 26 and 36 yards for Los Angeles, which dropped to 3-5.
Brady, who completed 36 of 58 passes for 280 yards, became the first passer in NFL history to surpass 100,000 career passing yards with a 15-yard completion to Fournette midway through the the fourth quarter.
Miller, surprisingly, was the Bucs’ leading receiver with seven catches on eight targets for 53 yards, six of which came on the final two drives. He might have been the hero, except he dropped a perfectly thrown pass from Brady in the end zone on the next-to-last drive.
The Bucs’ defense stepped up in the final quarter, forcing three Rams punts, including a three-and-out on the possession immediately before Brady led Tampa Bay on its winning touchdown drive.
Vita Vea had two sacks, and Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Genard Avery added one apiece. Safety Keanu Neal had 10 tackles, including six unassisted. Cornerback Carlton Davis had six tackles, including one for loss, in his return from a hip injury.
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Punter Jake Camarda tied Sean Landeta’s franchise record with a 74-yard punt in the third quarter.
Here’s how it happened:
Scotty Miller was Johnny-on-the-spot on the Bucs’ next-to-last drive, though he failed to show in the biggest moment.
The seldom-used receiver caught four passes from Tom Brady as the Bucs, trailing by 4, drove deep into Rams territory.
Miller caught passes of 4, 6, 9 and 7 yards, and Rachaad White had a 6-yard reception for a first down before Brady found tight end Cade Otton for 19 yards to the 7.
After a screen pass to Chris Godwin gained only 1 yard, Miller got wide open in the end zone but dropped Brady’s perfectly thrown pass. A pass for Otton at the goal line was broken up by Jalen Ramsay, setting up fourth and goal from the 6.
Brady’s pass for Mike Evans was nearly intercepted in the end zone by Ramsay, resulting in a turnover-on-downs.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady became the first quarterback in NFL history to surpass 100,000 passing yards early in the fourth quarter.
Brady reached the milestone on a short pass to Leonard Fournette on third and 20 that the running back took for 15 yards, setting up fourth and 4 from the Rams 32-yard line.
Ryan Succop’s 50-yard field goal attempt was good, trimming Tampa Bay’s deficit to 13-9 with just over eight minutes remaining in the game.
Earlier in the drive, Brady hit tight end Cade Otton for a first down at midfield and wide receiver Chris Godwin for 7 yards to the Rams 37 on third and 4.
Jake Camarda’s punt to the Rams 11-yard line did more than tie a franchise record.
It also flipped the field.
For all the good it did the Bucs.
After a quick defensive stop, Tampa Bay forced a Los Angeles punt and gained possession at its 47-yard line.
Two plays picked up 8 yards to the Rams 45, but Tom Brady threw incomplete for Chris Godwin on third and 2 and was sacked by Aaron Donald near midfield on fourth down.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford took advantage two plays later, hitting Cooper Kupp deep downfield for a 34-yard gain to the Bucs 10.
Tampa Bay’s defense kept Los Angeles out of the end zone, but Matt Gay’s 35-yard field goal extended the Rams lead to 13-6 with nine seconds remaining in the third quarter.
With a 74-yard punt midway through the third quarter, Jake Camarda tied the record for the longest in Bucs history.
Camarda shares the mark with Sean Landeta, first set during a Dec. 14, 1997 game against the Jets.
Extending their advantage
Clinging to a 1-point advantage at halftime, the Rams added three points to their lead on their first possession of the second half.
Matthew Stafford hit wide receiver Allen Robinson for 15 yards over the middle to the Los Angeles 44-yard line, then connected with running back Malcolm Brown for 10 yards and a first down at the Tampa Bay 44 on third and 8.
After a Darrell Henderson run picked up 10 yards to the 34, Henderson burst through a hole up the middle, then spun his way for 23 yards to the 11, the Rams’ longest run of the season.
But a pass to Cooper Kupp gained only 3 yards, and back-to-back incompletions, including a break-up by linebacker Lavonte David that nearly resulted in an interception, brought up fourth and 7 from the 8.
Matt Gay came on to kick a 26-yard field goal, extending the Rams’ lead to 10-6 with 9:14 remaining in the third quarter.
Finding some rhythm
Out of sync for much of the first half, the Bucs offense seemed to find some rhythm late in the second quarter.
After a 32-yard pass interference penalty against Los Angeles cornerback Derion Kendrick (who was guarding Mike Evans along the right sideline) moved the ball to the Tampa Bay 49-yard line, Brady hit Chris Godwin for 7 yards to the Rams 44 (Godwin snagging the ball just inches from the turf), Julio Jones for 9 to the 35 and Leonard Fournette twice for 15 yards to the 20.
But the drive stalled there, after a couple of incomplete passes intended for Jones, including one shot into the end zone.
The Bucs sent kicker Ryan Succop on to the field, and he converted from 38 yards. Succop’s second field goal of the game brought Tampa Bay to within 7-6 at the half.
Mixing it up
The Bucs uncharacteristically leaned on the running game during a late second-quarter drive that started with promise but ended pointless.
With Rachaad White doing the bulk of the work, they ran the ball six times for 17 yards. Tom Brady completed two of his three attempts for 15 yards.
Tampa Bay converted two third downs on the drive, with Brady finding Mike Evans for 6 yards to the Bucs 47 and Chris Godwin for 9 to the Rams 38.
But they were unable to convert on third and 6 from the 34, as running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn dropped a short Brady pass.
The Bucs attempted a field goal, but Ryan Succop’s 52-yard attempt was blocked by Bobby Wagner.
Hurting, in more ways than one
Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis, who has been battling a hip injury, left the field late in the first quarter .
Tampa Bay’s top cover corner reportedly had his knee checked out after a 2-yard Cam Akers run that gave the Rams a first down at the Los Angeles 20.
Davis briefly was replaced by rookie Zyon McCollum before returning as the drive stretched into the start of the second quarter.
There was little he could do but watch, however, as Rams receiver Cooper Kupp streaked between him and safety Keanu Neal (after Stafford looked off safety Mike Edwards) just over two minutes later. Kupp caught a Matthew Stafford pass on the run and took the ball 69 yards for a touchdown.
Matt Gay’s extra-point kick gave Los Angeles a 7-3 lead, its first of the game.
Paying the price
Wide receiver Mike Evans was down on the field on the Bucs’ opening possession, but he didn’t stay down.
Evans was hurting after being hit by three defenders following a 10-yard reception over the middle for a first down on third and 7 from the Tampa Bay 47-yard line.
He was attended to by trainers, who appeared to be looking at his rib area, before hopping up and running off the field.
Three plays later, Tom Brady threw a short pass out out to the left side to Julio Jones, who took it 19 yards to the Rams 28. Evans returned for the following play.
After a 2-yard run by Leonard Fournette and 2-yard Chris Godwin reception, Evans went back over the middle on third and 6. He caught another Brady pass in traffic for a 13-yard gain to the Los Angeles 11.
Fournette took things from there, rushing twice for 2 yards and catching a pass over the middle for 7 more. But he was stopped a yard short of a first down on third and 2 from the 3.
The Bucs settled for a 20-yard Ryan Succop field goal and a 3-0 lead with 7:16 remaining in the first quarter.
The Bucs defense forced a quick three-and-out on the Rams’ opening possession.
After a Matthew Stafford incompletion, Tampa Bay yielded only a 5-yard run by Darrell Henderson before Stafford threw incomplete for Tyler Higbee on third and 5 from the Los Angeles 32-yard line, forcing a punt.
How the mighty have fallen
One team has lost its past three games and five of its past six yet sits just a game out of first place in its division with a 3-5 record, the worst start in its quarterback’s illustrious 23-season career.
The other has one fewer loss but has dropped three of its past four games and might be in worse shape, 1-1/2 games behind the leader in its division.
Both look flummoxed and frustrated by their fate.
These are the past two Super Bowl champions?
Believe it or not, yes.
It’s ironic, in a way.
Last season, the Rams followed the Bucs’ blueprint almost to the letter in building a championship team.
They started with a stout defense, discarded a first-round quarterback (Jared Goff, as Tampa Bay had with Jameis Winston) in favor of a proven veteran (Matthew Stafford/Tom Brady), added a game-breaking receiver (Odell Beckham Jr./Antonio Brown) to an already talented corps (Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods/Mike Evans, Chris Godwin) and then grabbed quality complementary pieces (edge rusher Von Miller/Shaquil Barrett, Leonard Fournette) along the way to winning a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
Now, the Rams appear to be following the Bucs into mediocrity, as well, though it’s happening a year sooner in their case.
To be fair, all of Los Angeles’ losses have come against 2021 playoff teams: Buffalo, San Francisco (twice) and Dallas. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has fallen to bottom-feeders Pittsburgh and Carolina; in addition to playoff teams Green Bay and Kansas City; as well as Baltimore, which narrowly missed qualifying for the postseason.
But the reality is the same for both teams: They desperately need a win today to pull them out of a downward spiral.
The Bucs have been wracked with injuries, particularly to their secondary and receiving corps. Last week, outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.
But the elephant in the room is 45-year-old quarterback Tom Brady. Throwing behind a still-developing interior line that lost left guard Ali Marpet to retirement and center Ryan Jensen to injury, Brady has been as efficient as ever but seems either unwilling or unable to connect with his receivers downfield.
The Rams, like the Bucs, have struggled on offense, particularly running the ball. In fact, Los Angeles (31st) and Tampa Bay (32nd) are the two worst rushing teams in the league. On top of that, Stafford has been turning the ball over, his eight interceptions (compared to seven touchdowns) second-most among starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
Running back Cam Akers, who Los Angeles appeared ready to trade earlier in the week, will be active for the first time in four weeks, as will top receiver and 2021 Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp, who has been battling an ankle injury.
The Bucs, meanwhile, are expected to get back cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting, and defensive Akiem Hicks. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (concussion), tight end Cameron Brate (neck), guard Luke Goedeke (foot) and wide receiver Russell Gage (hamstring) remain out.
Is this the week one of these teams begins to rediscover its championship form? It had better happen soon.
Yes, there are still nine games (10 in the Rams’ case) to play in the regular season, and neither team is in immediate danger of falling out of its division race. If they can get back to playing their game and find their way into the postseason field, either (or both) would be a tough out.
But if they continue to play the way they have as the season approaches its midway point, those remaining games are only going to be additional opportunities to add to their loss totals.
Who’s in/who’s out
Game day scene
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A little light reading
Here’s some of our content leading up to today’s game:
Fans aren’t the only ones scrutinizing Byron Leftwich’s play-calling
History says the Bucs are probably doomed. Are they listening?
Warren Sapp hopes ‘Living with CTE’ film adds to his legacy
Bucs’ Mike Evans needs to hang onto every football Sunday
Antoine Winfield Jr. won’t play vs. Rams; Akiem Hicks expected back
Lately, the Bucs defense can’t buy a turnover. Is it a fluke or flaw?
Tom Brady, Bucs have perfect chance to press reset
Tom Brady on verge of reaching NFL’s first six-figure statistic
White responds to Sapp’s criticism: ‘He can say what he wants to say’
Tweaked ankle and all, Rams’ Cooper Kupp set for a Raymond James Stadium encore
Plenty of league trades but no deals swung by Bucs
What’s wrong with the Bucs? Let our readers count the ways
Tom Brady calls divorce from Gisele Bündchen ‘a very amicable situation’
Bucs may need three players to replace Shaquil Barrett
Former Bucs Tyler Johnson, Ryan Smith re-signed to team’s practice squad
Was Bucs’ Devin White gassed or loafing? ‘A little bit of both’
Bucs midseason report: The good, the bad and the worse
Bucs’ Shaquil Barrett out for rest of season with torn Achilles
Tell us, where did it all start to go wrong for the Bucs in 2022?
Tom Brady, Gisele Bündchen end their marriage after 13 years
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