There's no way around it. The Buccaneers traveled across the country to take on an extremely good football team. The pundit predictions were all over the place. No one knew which way the game was going to go. And in the end, the Los Angeles Rams played the better game on Sunday.
That's ok to admit.
Head Coach Bruce Arians and many of his player echoed the same sentiment postgame. It's not that the Rams are the better team. But they certainly played better on their home turf Sunday afternoon.
"They know right now we didn't play up to our ability," Arians said of his team. "When we play up to our ability, we're a better football team than this one. We'll make sure that we make the corrections. Everybody's eyes and ears will be open to the coaching and our guys do a great job with that. So, it's no different winning and losing. You go and you correct It. There's a lot of mistakes. There's a lot of good things too and you march onto the next one."
Since it was LA, maybe we should blame Mercury being in retrograde, but nothing seemed to go right for the Buccaneers, save for a drive or two that offered a glimpse of hope. But most everything seemed hard fought, right down to a Tom Brady rushing touchdown at the goal line.
In the end, it wasn't the Bucs' day – but this game was circled as one of the hardest the Bucs would face this season. Unless your expectations were to go 17-0, losing one game early in the season shouldn't derail anything about the team or its expectations. You take it for what it's worth: a chance to improve.
With that in mind, here are a few things that stood out.
1 . Head Coach Bruce Arians said the lack of sacks and 'getting home' with pressure is what is most concerning for him when it comes to the defense. The only sack of Matthew Stafford the Bucs had came halfway through the fourth quarter when defensive tackle Will Gholston beat his man and dropped Stafford for a loss of 12. It created an opportunity, though perhaps a little too late in the game, for the Bucs' offense to get back on the field and score. Which, they did. Even after being faced with a fourth-and-two situation that turned into a 13-yard gain thanks to a catch and run from wide receiver Chris Godwin. It was running back Giovani Bernard that punched it in on a seven-yard catch in the end zone that made the score its final 34-24 form, though he was shaken up on the play.
Those opportunities given to the offense were few and far between this game from the defense, which has a very uncharacteristic three sacks through three games. They're missing one of their pass-rushing bookends in Jason Pierre-Paul now, who is out with hand and shoulder injuries, but the rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and third-year outside linebacker Anthony Nelson filled in admirably. Tryon-Shoyinka even got free a couple of times but with the experience and poise Stafford has, he was able to get the ball away before Tryon-Shoyinka could do it for him.
That was the story all game of Stafford evading both pressure and the blitz. The Bucs' pressure rate was down to 13.8% when rushing four and 20% when blitzing. Gholston's sack came on a blitz with the Bucs rushing five but before you say that would have been the key to success, consider Stafford had a 141.2 quarterback rating against the blitz and a 131.7 rating with just four rushers. Accordingly, the Bucs blitzed at their lowest rate this season, bringing five or more rushers on 25.6% of dropbacks, compared to around 37% the prior two games.
It was likely to help accommodate the back end and put more defensive backs on the field with a rotating cast back there due to injury. Cornerback Jamel Dean suffered a knee injury that knocked him out of the game and caused the secondary to have to adjust yet again. The Bucs needed as much help back there as they could get, which came at the expense of the front. That's why it's so important to be able to create pressure with four rushers. And that's exactly what Arians said postgame.
View some of the top images from the Buccaneers week three matchup with the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium.
2. That brings us to the issue of third down and how it was a struggle on both sides of the ball. When asked about how the Rams were able to convert 10 third downs on the day, Arians circled back to pressure and the defensive front.
"It's a lack of communication and a lack of making plays," he said. "As I said, the front four didn't get there. We got one sack on the book, like late, but we've got to do a better job with the front four getting home."
Los Angeles ended up being 10-for-15 on third down attempts for a 66.7% conversion rate, but that's skewed a little bit. The Bucs' defense actually did a great job in the first half of holding them, allowing Los Angeles to convert just two of 10 third-down attempts. The Rams made up the rest in the fourth quarter as the game began to slip away.
The Bucs' offense wasn't much more successful on third down either, though. They converted two of eight in the first half and then finished the game converting six of 13 third-down attempts. It was the same issue that had plagued them in the prior two games, though those were victories: too many third and long situations. The Bucs committed seven penalties on the day, which is a direct contrast to how disciplined they were last season following the Chicago game in Week Five. And though there were only 41 yards that resulted from those penalties, marking a steady improvement from Weeks One and Two of this season, they came at crucial times that stalled drives.
3. Remarkably, that stalling didn't stop Brady from continuing his streak of gaudy passing stats, even in a loss. He finished the day completing 41-of-55 passes for 432 yards and one touchdown, earning 103.0 passer rating. Brady's 432 passing yards tied for the fifth-most in a single game in franchise history and the fifth-most Brady has had in any game of his NFL career. It was also the 101st 300-yard passing game of Brady's career, which stand as the second most in NFL history. He surpassed 400 passing yards in a game for the 11th time in his NFL career, tying Philip Rivers for the fifth-most such games in NFL history. This was the first time Brady had over 400 passing yards and no interceptions in a loss.
He currently leads the NFL with 1,087 passing yards and 10 passing touchdowns through Week Three of the 2021 NFL season. It also means that Brady needs just 68 passing yards to break the NFL's all-time passing record, all but ensuring he will do that in his return to Foxboro on Sunday Night Football next week when the Bucs take on the Patriots.
All that being said, a lot of the reason his passing stats were so inflated this week was because the Bucs were playing from behind. They were in their two-minute offense most of the second half, throwing the offense completely off balance in an effort to get chunk yardage every play. It's why you saw Bernard get 45% of the team's offensive snaps – the third down back was utilized mostly in the passing game.
"RoJo ran really well," said Arians. "And especially in that one drive, but then when you get down, you got to go to the two minutes and speed it up and throw it. So, it wasn't a game where you could, 'Hey, let's stay in the running game for a while.'"
That also explains why Brady was the team's leading rusher on the day, scrambling twice for 13 yards then rushing one yard into the end zone.
"We got off to a slow start," continued Brady after the game. "Anytime you do that, you're fighting behind all day. I think we played a good team that didn't turn the ball over. They played well offensively, and we just didn't make enough plays on offense early to kind of take control of anything. Just not a great complimentary game by us. Got to learn from it. There (were) some things to see and the silent count and working on some different facets of our offense. But anytime you come up short, it's not a great feeling."
He'll be aiming to have a better feeling next week. And so will the rest of the team.