An anticipated shootout between the undefeated and high-powered Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the undefeated and high-powered Los Angeles Rams started out with a whimper Sunday at SoFi Stadium. The two offenses combined to start the game with five straight short drives and five punts and neither team scored in the first quarter.
And then the bullets started flying, in the form of nine scoring drives of 75 yards or more. Unfortunately, the Rams were responsible for more of those long marches, as Matthew Stafford threw for four touchdowns and 343 yards in a 34-24 Los Angeles win. Tampa Bay lost on its first road trip of 2021 after two wins at home.
"Obviously not the outcome we were looking for," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "I don't think we played in any phase up to our ability today. Obviously a road game [and] we didn't handle the noise like we should have offensively a couple times."
The loss snapped Tampa Bay's 10-game winning streak, which dated back to the 2020 season and included the team's victory over Kansas City in Super Bowl LV. The loss dropped the Buccaneers to 2-1 in 2021, one game behind the 3-0 Carolina Panthers in the NFC South.
A number of notable streaks ended as the Buccaneers tasted defeat for the first time in 10 months. Tampa Bay came into the game riding an NFL record of nine straight victories with at least 30 points scored in each. The Bucs' final point total was their lowest in a game since Week 12 of last season. Also, for the first time in 14 games, quarterback Tom Brady did not throw for at least two touchdown passes. His 13-game streak ended up one behind his own NFL record, which he shares with Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers.
Brady, who came into the game with a league-high nine touchdown passes, was not exactly contained by the Rams' star-studded defense. He threw for 423 yards and directed three long touchdown drives. The first two ended in the Bucs' first rushing touchdowns of the year, one by wide receiver Chris Godwin and the second on his own one-yard sneak. The Buccaneers got the final margin down to 10 points with an 88-yard drive late in the fourth quarter that ended in Brady's seven-yard touchdown pass to running back Giovani Bernard.
"We got off to a slow start, so anytime you do that you're fighting from behind all day and I think we played a good team that didn't turn the ball over," said Brady. "They played well offensively and we didn't make enough plays on offense early to kind of take control of anything. It was just not a great complementary game by us. Anytime you come up short it's not a good feeling."
However, Brady faced far more pressure in the pocket than did Stafford, who wasn't sacked until after Los Angeles had scored all 34 of their points and was only hit four times. That allowed the Rams' new quarterback, acquired in an offseason trade with the Detroit Lions, to hit on 27 of 38 passes and, crucially, convert 10 of 15 third downs. Brady was sacked three times, once by star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, hit five times and forced to scramble on three other occasion.
"They just made more plays than we did," said inside linebacker Lavonte David, who finished with six tackles. "There were times where we could have got the ball on defense. We've just got to be able to execute and overcome what's going on on the field. We can't control guys getting hurt so we have to have the 'next man up' mentality. We'll fix those things, fix some of the communication parts of the game and we'll be fine."
The Buccaneers started the game without cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and lost cornerback Jamel Dean in the first half to a knee injury. With outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul also out and the Bucs not getting into Stafford's space, the Lions chose to complement their crisp short passing game with a number of deep shots to wide receiver DeSean Jackson. The first three missed but Stafford and Jackson finally hooked up on a 75-yard touchdown three plays into the second half. That score, paired with a Cooper Kupp touchdown shortly before halftime gave the Rams a double-digit cushion they never relinquished.
"We've just got to get stops on defense, which we never did in the second half. Losing Dean hurt with him and Sean both out but other guys have to step and we didn't today. Our pass rush didn't get home and we had to get home to help those guys out. We didn't get it done. We've got to do a better job of getting home when we're rushing four and covering [go] routes."
Kupp was once again Stafford's favorite target, catching nine passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Brady spread the ball around quite a bit more, completing passes to 10 different players, with seven of those players hauling in at least three passes and five of them finishing with more than 50 yards. Mike Evans paced the team with eight catches for 106 yards. The Buccaneers once again failed to get a ground game going, however, finishing with just 35 yards on 13 carries. Brady actually led the team with 14 yards on those aforementioned scrambles. Ronald Jones had 11 yards on five carries but Arians thought he ran sharply before game circumstances diminished the rushing attack.
"RoJo /an really well, especially on that one drive," said Arians. "But when you get down, you've got to go to two-minute and speed it up and throw it. It wasn't a game [where you could say], 'Hey, let's stay in the running game for a while."
The Buccaneers lost a game by more than three points for the first time since Week Nine of last season. Tampa Bay started its Super Bowl title defense with two high-scoring wins over Dallas and Atlanta, but the formula didn't hold up in Week Three when the Buccaneers couldn't keep up in the back-to-back scoring battle Sunday at SoFi. After finishing the 2020 season on a very high note defensively, the Buccaneers have now surrendered an average of 29.3 points per game through three weeks of 2021.
The Bucs got the ball first but failed to get a first down and had to punt. They were lined up in a jumbo package to try to convert a third-and-one but a false start call on extra blocker Josh Wells made it a longer third down and Brady's pass in Tyler Johnson's direction was incomplete. Bradley Pinion's punt only went 38 yards and Tutu Atwell got it back to the Rams' 42 for their first drive.
Los Angeles didn't move the sticks, either, with rookie OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka pressuring Stafford into a third-down incompletion. The Rams' punt went out of bounds at Tampa Bay's 11. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay's second drive was another three-and-out, with a third-and-two pass to Giovani Bernard that came up just inches short. The Bucs punted again and Pinion hit it 53 yards down to the Rams' 27.
The Rams got the game's first down on the next drive and saw their drive stay alive when Dean dropped a potential interception deep down the left seam. That gave Stafford a chance to heave a very deep pass down the middle of the field to Jackson, and what looked like a sure 72-yard touchdown was broken up at the last second by CB Ross Cockrell.
The Bucs started their third drive back at their own 15 but got close to midfield in a hurry with a tackle-breaking 15-yard catch by Fournette and a 17-yard catch-and-run by Godwin. The Bucs had to punt from the midfield stripe, however, after Rob Gronkowski couldn't quite extend far enough for a catch deep down the left side.
Stafford got the Rams out of the shadow of their own goal line with a 12-yard screen to TE Tyler Higbee, then hit Kupp, who was wide open on the left sideline, for a gain of 22. Jordan Whitehead forced a fumble on Higbee's next catch but the Rams recovered the ball at the Bucs' 39-yard line. Los Angeles converted a third-and-one for a first down at the 31 and, after the quarter ended and the team's switched sides, converted another third down on a quick six-yard pass to Woods. Three plays later, Stafford threw another screen to Higbee and this one went for six yards and the game's first score. The Rams drive covered 95 yards on 14 plays and drained 8:05 off the clock.
The Bucs answered back with a time-consuming drive of their own. Bernard got the Bucs another first down with an impressive effort on a third-and-seven screen, just diving past the sticks. Brady stood in a shrinking pocket three plays later to convert another third down on a crossing route to Godwin that took the ball to the Bucs' 45. A deep out to Evans took the ball across midfield. Brady found Gronkowski wide open on the left side four plays later and the big tight end rumbled down to the five-yard line for a 26-yard gain. It took three plays to get it in from there but Godwin was able to take Brady's underneath handoff and find a seam around the right end to dive into the end zone.
That left four minutes to play in the half, which was enough time for Stafford to engineer another long drive, this one covering 75 yards on 10 plays. A 21-yard strike over the middle to Van Jefferson got the ball down to the Bucs' 24 and Stafford hit Kupp on a wheel route for 22 more to make it first and goal. The Rams lined up with a bunch out to the left and Kupp cut out and was wide open for a two-yard score.
That left Brady 51 seconds to work with, and he got help from Bernard on a 32-yard screen that took it to the Bucs' 47 with 31 seconds left in the half. Evans hauled in one cutting left to right on the next play and got out of bounds with a 14-yard gain and 25 seconds to go. An unusual play in which Donald hit Brady's arm from behind, forcing a loose ball, ended up good and bad for the Buccaneers. Bernard caught the ball in midair and scrambled well down into Rams territory. The Bucs averted the disaster of a turnover near midfield but the play was ruled a recovery of a forward fumble, which cannot be advanced by the offense. That brought the ball back to the L.A. 45 and the best the Bucs could get from there was a 55-yard field goal attempt that Ryan Succop missed short and to the right.
The second half started out poorly for the Buccaneers. The Rams got the ball first and the Bucs forced them into a quick third-and-10, but Stafford enjoyed a clean pocket for a very long time on that down and eventually found Jackson wide open deep downfield for the 75-yard score.
That put the Bucs on their heels but they managed to respond with another 75-yard touchdown drive. Brady got off completions of 20 and 11 yards to Evans, the first one possible thanks to a great block in the backfield by Fournette. Brady also found Gronkowski twice, the first one gaining 15 yards down to get across midfield but the second one sent Gronkowski to the sideline with an injury. Brate came in to take over at tight end and immediately took a screen down to the one for a 17-yard gain. Brady ran the QB sneak on first-and-goal and just submarined the ball under the defenders for the touchdown.
That failed to generate any momentum for the visitors, however, as Stafford converted two more third downs on another 75-yard touchdown drive, one to Woods for 20 yards needing 10 and one to Jackson for a 40-yard gain down to the 10. Stafford found Kupp near the front right pylon on the next play for his fourth touchdown pass of the game.
This time, the Bucs couldn't answer and Pinion's shanked punt went out of bounds at Tampa Bay's 37, giving Stafford a short field for the first time. Tampa Bay's defense held but the Rams still increased their lead to 17 points on Matt Gay's 48-yard field goal.
Brady hit Johnson twice for 54 yards on the next drive, the second one a 31-yarder that set up a first-and-goal at the L.A. eight-yard line. For the first time in eight goal-to-go drives in 2021, Brady failed to get the ball into the end zone, throwing three incompletions as the Bucs settled for Succop's 26-yard field goal.
The Rams got those three points back with a 13-play, 67-yard drive that most notably chewed another eight minutes off the clock. Gay hit on a 26-yard field goal to make it a three-score game, 34-17.