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.
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 11 matchup against Los Angeles.
Additional game details (scoring plays in bold):
The Bucs got the ball first but the game didn't start off particularly well as left tackle Donovan Smith had to be helped off the field after a run by Jones for no gain. Two catches by Brown moved the sticks once but the Bucs had to punt without getting another first down. Bradley Pinion's 59-yard punt went into the end zone for a touchback,.
The Rams got across midfield on their first drive on a series of short throws but then invaded the red zone on a 37-yard catch-and-run over the middle by WR Cooper Kupp. The Bucs' defense got the Rams into a third-and-two at the four-yard line, but a neutral-zone infraction gave the visitors a free first down at the two-yard line. The Bucs clamped down on first and second down but Goff bought time with a small scramble on third down and found WR Robert Woods in the end zone for a touchdown to complete the 80-yard drive.
The Bucs' next drive quickly fell into a third-and-10 but got a boost when CB Jalen Ramsey was flagged for a 20-yard pass interference penalty. Brady converted the next third down with a seven-yard strike over the middle to Godwin for a first down at the Rams' 40. Brady found TE Rob Gronkowski two plays later on the left side for a gain of 16 and a first down at the 18. The Bucs then faced a third-and-one at the nine-yard line and Brady found Evans out to the right with just enough yardage for a first down. That wasn't enough for Evans, who fought through two Rams defenders and powered his way all the way to the end zone for the game-tying score a minute into the second quarter.
The Bucs' defense got a three-and-out on the next possession, with CB Carlton Davis closing quickly on Robert Woods on a third-and-five completion to stop the play two yards short. A 43-yard punt by Johnny Hekker and an eight-yard return by Kenjon Barner put the ball at Tampa Bay's 32. Brady converted an early third-and-six with a seven-yard dart through traffic to TE Cam Brate. Brady and Brate hooked up again three plays later on a nine-yard out on third-and-nine to keep the drive alive, but a deep shot to Evans on the next play fell incomplete. S Jordan Fuller arrived too early on a third-down pass down the middle to WR Scotty Miller and drew a 25-yard pass interference flag, making it first down at the Rams' 20. Brady then found Evans again for a gain of 18 down to the two, which he hauled in despite another pass interference flag. On first-and-goal, Brady handed it off to Fournette, who bulled right up the middle for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Rams countered with a long drive of their own into Buccaneers territory. Goff converted a third-and-three with a 19-yard completion to Woods that just got the ball across midfield, then found Kupp on the left sideline, with the receiver breaking a tackle to get 24 yards to the Bucs' 18. Facing a third-and-four at the Bucs' 12, the Rams got a first-and-goal when the OLB Shaquil Barrett jumped offside. On the next play, Los Angeles tied the game back up with a quick slant to rookie WR Van Jefferson for a seven-yard touchdown.
A fantastic adjustment on a back-shoulder throw by Brown got the Bucs' next drive going with a 12-yard gain. He also touched the ball on the next three plays, with two catches and one end-around that resulted in a first down at the Bucs' 48 as the two-minute warning arrived. Another deep shot to Evans failed to connect and the Bucs ended up punting from midfield with and it was fair caught at the 19 with exactly a minute left in the half. The Rams were able to use that minute to take the lead before halftime, with Woods breaking free on a screen and getting 35 yards down to the Bucs' 20. The Rams, out of timeouts, were able to spike the ball with one second left and Gay came on to hit a 38-yard field goal to make it 17-14.
The Rams got the ball to start the second half and got a quick first down but then committed the game's first turnover. Goff tried to hit RB Darrell Henderson in the left flat but Pierre-Paul was in the way and he intercepted the pass at the Rams' 37, returning it to the 22. The Bucs' offense couldn't do much with it but K Ryan Succop came on to drill a 38-yard game-tying field goal.
The Rams got across midfield on the ensuing drive on a 16-yard catch by Woods and rookie RB Cam Akers followed with an 11-yard run down to the Bucs' 34. DL Ndamukong Suh stopped Akers for a loss of one on third-and-one at the 25 and Gay subsequently missed a 44-yard field goal try wide to the right to keep the game tied.
The Bucs took over at their own 34 near the midway point of the third quarter and got one first down but then committed their first turnover of the game. Brady went deep over the middle in the direction of Chris Godwin but the ball went directly to S Jordan Fuller for the interception. Fuller caught it at the Rams' 26-yard line and returned it to Tampa Bay's 37. Goff got the Rams into the end zone quickly off that takeaway, throwing consecutive 18-yard completions to Reynolds and TE Gerald Everett before zipping a four-yard touchdown pass to Akers.
The Rams' defense got a three-and-out on the next possession after Brown just missed hauling in a deep throw from Brady on third down. After the punt, the L.A. offense converted yet another third down to get to midfield but then had to punt after CB Ross Cockrell blew up an intended bubble screen to Woods on third down. The Bucs took over at their own 13 but went nowhere as LB Samson Ebukam recorded the game's first sack on second down and DL Morgan Fox hooked Brady's arm on third down, resulting in an incompletion. The Rams challenged the call, believing the play to be a fumble, but the call was upheld. The Rams got the ball back at their own 42 as the third quarter expired.
Tampa Bay's defense came up with a big stop on the ensuing drive. A holding call on the Rams helped but ILB Lavonte David's pass break-up on second down led to third-and-17 and Pierre-Paul batted down Goff's pass on third down. The ensuing punt bounced out of bounds at the Bucs' 20. The Bucs got one first down but then had to punt it away again with 12 minutes to play.
Tampa Bay's defense continued its late surge, driving the Rams backward on tackles for loss by David and CB Sean Murphy-Bunting to force a punt. The Bucs' offense got the ball back at its own 37 and got a first down at midfield catch and a run by Fournette. A screen to Brown on third-and-10 gained nine yards to make it fourth-and-one at the Rams' 42 with just over eight minutes remaining. The Bucs went for it but Godwin, the intended target, tripped on his out route and the pass was incomplete.
Once again, Tampa Bay's defense came up big. This time, Whitehead intercepted a short Goff pass over the middle at the Rams' 48 and returned it four yards. Brady found Godwin over the middle for a 10-yard gain and two Fournette runs made it third-and-one at the Rams' 25. Fournette got it again on third down and powered over right guard for a first down at the 23. A 10-yard strike to Evans earned another first down at the 13, and the Bucs scored on the next play. Godwin snuck out to the right and caught a pass near the sideline, then dived over CB Darious Williams for the touchdown to make it 24-24 with 3:53 left.
The Rams quickly drove into scoring range on the next possession, with Goff hitting Woods for 23 yards and Kupp for 19 to get to Tampa Bay's 24. After a two-yard run, the Bucs used their first timeout with 2:51 remaining. Tampa Bay stopped the drive at the 22 but also used two timeouts, and Gay came on to hit the go-ahead 40-yard field goal.
The Bucs' next drive started at their own 19 with 2:32 remaining. Brady quickly hit Brate and Godwin over the middle for a total of 19 yards to the 38. However, Brady then tried to hit Brate deep down the left sideline and the pass sailed well past its target into Fuller's hands.