Stunning Rally Gives Bucs Win in Battle of Super Bowl Champs
Tom Brady hit rookie TE Cade Otton on a one-yard touchdown pass with nine seconds left in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 16-13 win over the Los Angeles Rams in a battle of the last two Super Bowl champions on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Otton's score capped a six-play drive that started at the Buccaneers' own 40-yard line with 40 seconds left and no timeouts to burn, and it was the 55th game-winning drive of Brady's unparalleled career.
"That was awesome," said Brady to open his postgame press conference, expressing the relief of a team that had lost three in a row and five of its last six. "That was awesome.
"We needed it. We needed it and we fought to the end. Defense played great, we made some plays offensively. I know we left a few out there but it's a tough team. We made some great plays and I'm glad we won."
The Buccaneers' win snapped a three-game losing streak and improved the team's record to 4-5. After losses by Atlanta and Carolina earlier in the afternoon, Tampa Bay moved back into a tie with the Falcons for first place in the NFC South, and it already owns a head-to-head win over Atlanta. The Rams slipped to 3-5, having lost their third game in a row.
Sunday's matchup marked the 35th time that the previous two league champions had met, but the first time in all of those games that both teams came in with a losing record. The Buccaneers next head to Munich, Germany for a Week 10 game against the 6-3 Seattle Seahawks, and the win will make for a much more enjoyable nine-hour overseas flight.
"We certainly haven't played perfect by any stretch," said Brady. "But hopefully it gives us some confidence and we can win again next week and get to 5-5, which would be good for us at the bye week, and then kind of reevaluate everything."
Otton's grab was Tampa Bay's only touchdown of the game as the offense struggled to sustain drives or capitalize on red zone opportunities for most of the day, but a stifling effort by the defense and an incredible performance by rookie punter Jake Camarda made sure it was enough. The Buccaneers held the Rams to 206 total yards of offense, 127 of which came on eight catches by WR Cooper Kupp. Kupp's 69-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter gave the Rams a 7-3 lead and they wouldn't trail again until the final seconds.
DL Vita Vea spearheaded the defensive effort with two of the team's four sacks; the other two were recorded by DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches and OLB Genard Avery. Three of the four drives occurred on third down, thus ending drives as the Rams only converted four of 15 third-down tries. Los Angeles also was unable to convert its two red zone incursions into touchdowns, settling for Matt Gay field goals twice in the third quarter instead of pulling away on the scoreboard.
"I thought they fought hard," said Head Coach Todd Bowles of the Buccaneers' defense. "They were very good in situational football this week - third down, mostly in the red zone they were pretty good keeping them out with seven. Other than that one play, probably two plays, those guys played tough. Hats off to them, they did a heck of a job. We knew had to win the line of scrimmage and Vita was a big part of that. Going into the week we were determined to get him free and at least match him up a little bit, and he came through for us."
Meanwhile, Camarda controlled the field position battle all day, averaging 59.5 yards on six punts, with a gross of 54.2. Both marks are the best by any punter in a single game in team history. Camarda's efforts included a 68-yard blast in the first half and a 74-yarder in the third quarter that tied for the longest punt in franchise history. He had another 66-yarder in the fourth quarter that just barely touched the goal line for a touchback.
Those rank as three of the eight longest punts in franchise history. WR Jaelon Darden also had a positive effect on field position, picking up 82 yards on eight punt returns. Kicker Ryan Succop connected on field goals of 20, 38 and 52 yards, though he had a 52-yard attempt blocked in the second period.
Bowles gave Camarda the game ball in the postgame locker room to raucous cheers from his teammates. "Camarda was huge," said Bowles. "We gave him a Game Ball. He was huge today. Without him punting that ball and changing the field position, we probably would have been in some tough situations."
The Buccaneers were in position to score the go-ahead touchdown on their penultimate drive, earning a first down at the Rams' seven with three minutes to play. But WR Scotty Miller dropped a pass in the end zone on second-and-goal and Otton had the ball dislodged by a hard hit at the goal line on third-and-goal. A fourth-down attempt to WR Mike Evans was broken up by CB Jalen Ramsey.
However, the Bucs' defense produced its eighth three-and-out of the game, getting the ball back to Brady with one last shot. It proved to be sweet redemption for both Miller, who caught three passes for 25 on the final drive, and Otton, who in addition to his game-winning score got the drive started with a 28-yard grab up the middle.
Otton's touchdown came one play after Mike Evans drew a critical pass-interference penalty in the end zone. Miller finished the game with seven catches for 53 yards while Otton had five grabs for 68 yards. They helped Brady complete 36 of 58 passes for 280 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Brady extended his streak of consecutive passes without an interception to 373, the second-longest in NFL history to a 402-pass run by Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers in 2018.
"Cade is huge, Cade has been huge the last couple weeks, his blocking, making quality catches, making timely catches and again it not being too big for him," said Bowles. "He's developing into a good pro early in his career."
Added Brady of Miller and Otton: "They made a lot of great plays, and then Mike ended up making a great play, got the PI down there, as he probably would have caught that one for a touchdown. And then Cade caught the game-winner. I always tell them I don't care about dropped balls. I really don't. I'd rather be concerned about if you don't get open than if you drop the ball. I miss passes, they drop balls. Always go back to them. I have confidence in them."
That defense notably did not force a turnover, marking the fifth straight game without a takeaway for the Buccaneers. That is the longest such streak in franchise history and represents 305 consecutive game minutes, dating back to Sean Murphy-Bunting's fourth-quarter interception in a Week Four loss to Kansas City. The streak stubbornly refused some close calls, as the Rams fumbled twice but recovered both and Lavonte David, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Jamel Dean all nearly came down with interceptions.
The Bucs-Rams matchup also featured the two least productive rushing attacks in the NFL in 2022, and that remained a glaring problem for the home team, which gained just 51 yards on the ground despite an early attempt to stick with the rushing attack, particularly on first downs. The Rams were not much more successful, with 68 yards on 24 carries despite a 23-yard run by Darrell Henderson that set up a late field goal.
L.A. got the ball first, starting at their own 27. Pressure from Tryon-Shoyinka caused an incompletion on the first play and the Rams went three-and-out in under a minute. Jaelon Darden gave the Bucs good field position for their first drive with a 29-yard punt return to their own 44.
The Bucs quickly faced a third-and-seven and were able to convert it, but at a potential price. Brady zipped a hard pass to Evans between three defenders in the middle of the field, and all three arrived simultaneously to deliver a huge blow. Evans held on for the 10-yard gain to the Rams' 43 but took some time to get up before jogging off the field.
A holding call then backed the Bucs up into their own territory. Brady moved the sticks anyway, hitting Jones on a deep slant two plays later for 19 yards to the Rams' 28. Evans came back into the game and converted another third-and-seven with a 13-yard catch over the middle to the 11. After a second-down dump-off to Fournette made it third-and-two at the three. Fournette's carry up the middle got nothing and the Bucs settled for Ryan Succop's 20-yard field goal.
After a touchback, Stafford had enough time in the pocket to find WR Van Jefferson deep downfield but Jefferson couldn't hold on as he fell to his knees trying to make the catch. Stafford hit Kupp for the first time on the next play but White tackled ambushed him from behind to keep the gain to two yards. Tryon-Shoyinka got around the edge on the next play for an apparent sack but he left early and was flagged for being offsides.
Despite having Carlton Davis all over him, Allen Robinson was able to hold on to a quick slant to make it first down at the Rams' 36. A quick sack by Vea two plays later put the Rams into another long third down, and a quick screen to Kupp came up well short. Darden had another nice return for 10 yards after Riley Dixon's booming 59-yard punt and the Bucs had the ball back at their own 18.
RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn took his first handoff of the year to start the next drive and spun out of a tackle to get five yards, but Fournette's five-yard run on the next play was erased by another holding penalty. TE Cade Otton caught a pass in traffic to get 10 back, but had the pocket pushed back into his lap on third-and-five and threw incomplete under pressure.
Camarda's punt kept the Rams from tilting field position in their direction, as he blasted a a 68-yarder that return man Brandon Powell tried to field while running back towards the goal line. Powell muffed it but was so far behind the oncoming coverage units that he was able to come back and recover it at the nine. The Rams converted an early third-and-one on Cam Akers' two-yard run over right tackle, and were facing a second-and-five at their own 25 when the first quarter drew to a close.
Two plays into the second period, Allen Robinson made a diving catch on a quick out to convert a third-and-three, and two snaps after that Kupp got wide open down the right seam, catching Stafford's pass in stride and out-racing the closest defenders to the front right pylon for a 69-yard touchdown. That gave Los Angeles a 7-3 lead two minutes into the second quarter.
Rachaad White picked his way for four yards to start the Bucs' next drive, but a third-down sideline pass to Evans was a yard too short to move the sticks. Camarda had to punt away again and his kick rolled to a stop at the L.A. 19. The Rams called a timeout before trying a third-and-six early in the ensuing drive, and Davis put blanket sideline coverage on Robinson to force an incompletion and a punt.
There were 10 minutes left in the half when the Bucs started anew at their own 35. Unfortunately, that drive went nowhere either, as LB Terrell Lewis nearly picked off a tunnel screen to Godwin and a third-and-10 pass to WR Scotty Miller was four yards shy of the line to gain. Tampa Bay's defense countered with another three-and-out, with Tryon-Shoyinka nearly intercepting Stafford's pass over the middle on third-and-three.
White dashed up the middle to start the next drive, and two plays later Brady hit Evans on an out to convert a third down and make it first-and-10 three yards shy of midfield. White gashed diagonally over right guard for six more but was caught for no gain a snap later. Brady once again kept the drive alive by zipping a nine-yard pass into Godwin's stomach at the Rams' 38. However, the drive stalled at the 34 and Succop came on to try a 52-yard field goal. LB Bobby Wagner perfectly timed a leap over the line, landing on his feet and easily blocking the kick.
That gave the Rams possesion at their own 40 with three minutes left in the half. A deep middle shot to Jefferson was incomplete and helped to lead to a third-and-10. Stafford dropped the snap on third down but was able to fall on it at the 35-yard line.
With just under two minutes left the Bucs went into a hurry-up and on the second play Brady targeted Evans deep down the right sideline. The play did not result in a completion but did draw a 32-yard pass interference penalty on Derion Kendrick, making it first down at midfield. A stunning shoestring catch by Godwin and a nine-yard grab in traffic by Jones moved the chains again.
Two plays later, Brady got the ball to Fournette on a misdirection play to gain another 11 yards to the Rams' 25. Facing a third-and-five at the 20, Brady tried to hit Jones on the left edge of the end zone but it was well-defended and incomplete. Succop came on to hit a 38-yard field goal, making it a one-point game at halftime.
The Bucs had the ball to start the second half but squandered that advantage with a Fournette run for no gain and two incompletions. A holding penalty on the ensuing punt pushed Los Angeles backs to its 25 but an incredible diving catch by Robinson picked up 15 yards to the 44. On a third down from the 46, Stafford eluded a Vea sack and found RB Malcolm Brown near the left sideline for a gain of 10 to the Bucs' 44.
Henderon then tacked on two long runs, including a 23-yard tackle-breaker up the middle that got the ball down to the Buccaneers' 11. On third-and-seven from the eight, David picked up Robinson on an out-breaking route and nearly intercepted the ball, forcing the Rams to settle for Matt Gay's 26-yard field goal and a 10-6 lead with nine minutes left in the third quarter.
The Bucs' offense came back with another three-and-out, with Brady niftily escaping pressure on third-and-five but seeing his short pass to Evans broken up. A holding penalty on the first punt attempt backed the Bucs up 10 yards and a false start followed in short order but Camarda made sure it didn't matter by blasting his record-tying 74-yarder, pushing the Rams back to their 11.
After Camarda flipped the field, the Bucs' defense added to the field-position win with a three-and-out that included Vea's sack of Stafford back at the Detroit four. The Lions eventually punted from their own 10 and Darden got the ball back close to midfield with a 15-yard return.
Rams CB Troy Hill nearly intercepted Brady's third-and-two pass attempt to Godwin and the punt team started to come in from the sideline. But the offensive players lobbied hard to go for it on fourth down and Bowles changed his mind and kept the offense on the field. The Rams called a timeout before the snap and then made the strategy backfire on Donald's sacks at the Bucs' 47.
Two plays into the resulting drive, Stafford, faked a handoff, rolled right and then ducked back to his left and found Kupp downfield in a hole in the zone for a gain of 34. However, the Rams faced a third-and-19 moments later when Nunez-Roches shot up the middle for a sack of nine yards. Los Angeles handed off for a short gain and then sent Gay on to hit a 37-yard field goal to make it a seven-point game with seconds left in the third quarter.
The Bucs produced one first down on their next drive but saw the possession end on third-and-12 from the 34. Camarda followed with what was officially a 66-yard punt that was ruled to have kissed the edge of the goal line before bouncing sideways and staying in play. A noisy crowd clearly wanted a replay challenge but the Bucs chose not to throw the red flag and the defense came back with a very quick three-and-out. Davis dropped Kupp for a loss of two on second down and Stafford's third-down deep shot to Jefferson was well out of reach.
As the clock ticked down under 10 minutes left, the Bucs got a pair of first downs to get into Rams territory, the second on a seven-yard Godwin catch on third-and-four. However, it was third-and-10 at the 37 moments later and it became third-and-20 on a holding call that erased a big third-down catch by Otton. Fournette made a nice move to slip past a would-be tackler on a third-down catch and got 15 yards, but the Bucs elected to send Succop out for a field goal with eight minutes left. He nailed it from 50 yards to pull the Bucs within four.
The Bucs' defense, needing a quick stop, produced three straight plays with negative yardage. White run-blitzed up the gut on first down of the Rams next drive to drop Akers for a loss of two. An end-around to Kupp lost three more, setting up third-and-15. Stafford was flushed from the pocket and eventually tracked down by Avery for a sack that forced another punt.
The Bucs got it back with 5:43 to play at their own 41. Two underneath passes to Scotty Miller and White produced one first down and got the ball just across midfield. Two more Miller grabs led to another first down at the Rams' 34 as the clock hit four minutes. On third-and-one from the 25, Otton got wide open on the left edge and Brady hit him for a gain of 18 to make it first-and-goal from the seven.
A tunnel screen to Godwin didn't work, and the Bucs had to burn a timeout before their second-down snap. Miller ran a sharp out-and-in route to get wide open in the back middle of the end zone but dropped an on-target pass. Brady hit Otton right at the goal line on third-and-goal but a hard hit dislodged the ball. The Bucs went for it on fourth down but an attempt to Evans in the back of the end zone was broken up by Jalen Ramsey.
There was 1:52 on the clock when the Rams started the ensuing drive, and it began with Vea stopping Henderson for no gain on first down. L.A. gave Kupp another end-around handoff and he picked up five yards, but Tryon-Shoyinka bottled up Henderson for just one yard on third down and the Rams punted it back. As described above, Brady led the Bucs on a six-play game-winning drive, his only incompletion a spike to stop the clock after Otton's 28-yard grab.
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 7 November 2022