Bucs Lose Under the Lights Again, Fall to Rams 27-24
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't wilt under the prime-time lights in their fourth try, but they didn't win, either. As a result, their path to the postseason got a little bit harder.

The Los Angeles Rams defeated the Buccaneers, 27-24, on Monday night at Raymond James Stadium, making Tampa Bay 1-3 in prime-time games in 2020 but more importantly dropping the Buccaneers record to 7-4 in a crowded NFC playoff race. The Rams improved to 7-3, remaining tied atop the NFC West but more importantly moving ahead of the Buccaneers in the overall NFC standings. The Buccaneers are now 1.5 games behind the 8-2 New Orleans Saints in the NFC South. Tampa Bay remains at home in Week 12 to face the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs, who are 9-1.

"Everybody's disappointed," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "We didn't make quite enough plays to win. Everybody was ready to play. We just played a good football team and we just didn't make enough plays to win. Nobody's head is down. We've got a big one coming up next week. We know where we stand and the next game is even bigger. [The margin for error is] very slim, very slim. And the next one's even bigger. Each and every one is going to be huge the whole rest of the way."

Former Buccaneers kicker Matt Gay, in his first game as a Ram, scored the winning points on a 40-yard field goal with 2:36 left in regulation. The Buccaneers had an opportunity to tie or win the game in the closing minutes but Tom Brady's deep pass attempt to TE Cameron Brate was intercepted by S Jordan Fuller with 1:49 remaining and the Rams were able to run out the clock. Fuller had two interceptions on the night, the other one setting up a third-quarter touchdown for the visiting team.

"Super-frustrating loss," said Brate. "I thought the defense really stepped up in the second half, gave the offense a bunch of short fields [but we] just didn't play our best game on offense. Really frustrating – couldn't sustain a drive, couldn't get first downs in the second half. When your defense is playing like that you feel like you let them down."

Indeed, Tampa Bay's defense gave the team a chance to get back into the game with four straight second-half stops, including an interception by S Jordan Whitehead that led to Chris Godwin's game-tying 13-yard touchdown catch with just under four minutes remaining. However, the Bucs couldn't get one more stop as Rams QB Jared Goff completed a prolific evening with an eight-yard drive leading to Gay's winning kick. Goff hit WRs Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods on big gains on the drive, continuing a huge outing for those three. Goff finished with 376 yards on 39 of 51 passing, much of it to Kupp (11-145) and Woods (12-130-1). The Rams' offense generated 413 total yards and converted on eight of 15 third-down tries.

"They were completing on third down a little bit, driving down the field on long drives," said Whitehead. "Jared Goff did a good job dinking the ball down the field, a good job of attacking. We just didn't make enough plays. We had the game in our hands the last drive and we let them get three. As a defense we have to shut them down and hold them to nothing there."

The game featured two of the NFL's top three defenses but the Rams more successfully lived up to that billing, holding Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay offense to 251 yards, including just 42 on the ground. The Buccaneers did convert seven of 14 third-down tries and scored touchdowns on all three of their red zone trips but had difficulty hitting any plays downfield. Both of Brady's interceptions came on deep balls and there were near-misses on two long throws to Mike Evans and one to Antonio Brown

"At times we look really, really good, and then there are times when we obviously don't," said Arians. "I felt very, very comfortable in the two-minute drive until that throw. We made some plays; obviously we didn't make enough in this ballgame - offense, defense or special teams - to win."

Though they were losing the yardage battle handily, the Buccaneers were still in a 17-17 tie midway through the third quarter after a Jason Pierre-Paul interception set up a game-tying Ryan Succop field goal. However, after a fourth-down stop in Buccaneers territory that seemed to give the Bucs the game's momentum, Brady was intercepted on a deep pass Fuller, leading to the Rams' go-ahead touchdown. Though the Buccaneers were able to tie the game on Godwin's touchdown, they never regained the lead.

"That's in fact what it was, one that just got away," said DL Will Gholston. "You've just got to give credit to them, though - they made plays. They made a lot of good plays. But I have full confidence, the defense had confidence in the offense, it just didn't swing our way."

The first half was a back-and-forth affair with the Rams scoring a touchdown on their opening drive but the Bucs responding with 14 straight points on a hard-fought Mike Evans touchdown catch and a two-yard scoring run by Leonard Fournette. However, the Rams mounted a second long scoring drive, this one ending in rookie WR Van Jefferson's seven-yard touchdown catch. Los Angeles then took the lead just before halftime with a long catch-and-run by Woods setting up Gay's 38-yard field goal as time expired.

Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 24 November 2020