With one minute and 52 seconds left in regulation on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, things looked bleak for the home team. Jalen Ramsey had just knocked away a fourth-and-goal pass by Tom Brady that was intended for Mike Evans, preserving the Los Angeles Rams' 13-9 lead. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were staring at the likelihood of not only a fourth straight loss to the Rams but, more importantly, their fourth defeat in a row in 2022 and a potential 3-6 record.
When the Rams took possession at their own seven following the turnover on downs, the NFL Next Gen Stats win probability chart gave the Buccaneers only a 5% chance of pulling out the victory. Tampa Bay had two timeouts left but the two-minute warning had already passed. The Rams could seal their win with a single first down, and even a three-and-out and a punt were sure to leave the clock at well under a minute.
Defensive lineman Vita Vea, who had two sacks earlier in the game, bottled up Rams running back Darrell Henderson for no gain on first down and the Bucs used their first timeout at the 1:46 mark. That increased the Bucs' chances of winning, according to NGS, by a whopping 1%. Wideout Cooper Kupp took one of his ubiquitous jet sweeps to the right on second down, then slide to the ground after a five-yard gain to avoid going out of bounds and stopping clock. This also added just 1% to the Bucs' hopes, and it also cost them their final timeout.
Outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka got the stop the Bucs had to have on third-and-five, stopping Henderson for one yard up the middle. Tampa Bay's sideline couldn't stop the clock so the Rams let it run down to 54 seconds and then used a timeout of their own. A punt was coming and there was hope – as there tends to be when Tom Brady is about to get the ball in an end-game situation – but NGS still only gave the Buccaneers a 10% chance of winning after Riley Dixon's punt to Tampa Bay's 40. There were 44 seconds left in regulation.
The NFL produced a video demonstrating how the Buccaneers' win probability fluctuated from this point until the final whistle. Brady would drive the Bucs 60 yards on six plays in 35 seconds, completing the game-winning drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Cade Otton. As it turned out, the single most important play, in terms of increasing the Bucs' odds of victory, was not Otton's touchdown, nor was it the longest play of the drive, also turned in by Otton. In fact, it wasn't officially one of the six plays on the drive. Read on.
As noted, the Buccaneers' win probability at the start of their final drive was 10%, or 10.2% to be more specific. Though he would eventually work the sidelines, Brady got the opening big chunk the drive needed by throwing over the middle to Otton for 28 yards to the L.A. 32, then rushing up to spike the ball to stop the clock with 28 seconds left. He then completed a short pass out to running back Leonard Fournette out in the left flat for just four yards, followed by two quick darts to wideout Scotty Miller on the left sideline for 14 and seven yards. The pass-catcher was able to run out of bounds after all three of those completions, and there were 16 seconds left after Miller's second grab got the ball down to the seven.
On first-and-goal, Brady tried to hit wide receiver Mike Evans moving right to left in the middle of the end zone but cornerback Derion Kendrick was flagged for pass interference while trying to break it up. The enforcement of the penalty made it first-and-goal at the one-yard line and Brady called his own play, with Offensive Coordinator agreeing wholeheartedly.
On the play, Evans was isolated on the left side of the formation while Otton was to the right of tackle Tristan Wirfs, off the line of scrimmage in a two-point stance. Chris Godwin was to his right on the line and Scotty Miller completed the trips bunch to Godwin's right, off the line. At the snap, Otton briefly engages with outside linebacker Leonard Floyd before spinning 270 degrees and sprinting out to the right along the line of scrimmage. Godwin and Miller both run routes breaking towards the middle, briefly drawing cornerbacks Troy Hill and Kendrick with them. Kendrick reacted quickly to Brady's throw to Otton but his split-second engagement with Miller put him in trailing position and he couldn't catch up before Otton stuck the ball over the goal line.
Here's how every snap of that drive, including the one erased by the PI penalty, affected the Bucs' odds of winning, according to the Next Gen Stats win probability chart:
· Cade Otton's 28-yard catch to the Rams' 32: Increased 4.7% to 14.9%
· Tom Brady's spike to stop the clock at 0:28: Decreased 1.4% to 13.5%
· Leonard Fournette's four-yard catch to the 28: Decreased 2.9% to 10.6%
· Scotty Miller's 14-yard catch to the 14: Increased 11.0% to 21.6%
· Miller's seven-yard catch to the seven: Increased 10.6% to 32.2%
· Pass interference penalty on Derion Kendrick to make it first-and-goal: Increased 34.2% to 66.4%
· Otton's one-yard touchdown catch: Increased 30.0% to 96.4%
Otton's score didn't quite ping the win chart to 100% for the Bucs because there were still nine seconds left on the clock. The Rams used it to run the usual desperation pitch-around play but Lavonte David eventually tackled Kupp at the L.A. 26.
Things looked bleak with 1:52 left, but the Buccaneers didn't quit. The defense got the stop it had to have in order to keep the Rams from maxing out on the win probability chart, and then Brady methodically chipped away at L.A.'s advantage, one play at a time. The result was an improbable 16-13 victory, and one the Buccaneers desperately needed.