Tampa Bay Buccaneers

L.A. Loss: Rams Deny Bucs in Home Opener

A furious Buccaneer comeback came up just short in a 37-32 loss to the Rams at Raymond James Stadium, with a weather delay complicating the final few minutes.

Pictures from the Buccaneers' Week 3 matchup with the Rams.

Tampa Bay's 2016 home opener was spoiled by a familiar stumbling block, and by the longest "big-guy" touchdown ever against the Buccaneers. Mother Nature didn't help out at the end, either.

The Buccaneers lost their Week Three matchup with the visiting Los Angeles Rams, 37-32, Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Trailing by four early in the fourth quarter, the home team seemed poised to retake the lead until DE Robert Quinn stripped the ball from QB Jameis Winston and DE Ethan Westbrooks returned it 77 yards for a touchdown. That was the longest fumble return touchdown ever scored against the Buccaneers, and it was by a 270-pound defensive lineman.

The Rams have now defeated the Buccaneers in five consecutive seasons. This one was particularly painful at the end, when a final bit of momentum for the home team was interrupted by a weather delay of a little over an hour. At the moment referee Ed Hochuli paused the game, the Buccaneers were preparing to defend a third-and-11 deep in L.A. territory and hopefully give the offense one last chance to win the game.

"It wasn't fun," said Winston of the game delay. "We wanted to continue to play. We had some momentum, so we had to try to get it back."

Added TE Cameron Brate: "It's not ideal, it's not what you want, but we did it a couple times during training camp so it's not a situation we're really not used to. Especially down here in Florida, weather's always kind of an issue. We just tried to stay warm, tried to draw up some plays. We knew the defense was going to get a stop and hopefully we'd get a shot there at the end."

The Bucs did get some of their momentum back, coming out of the break with a third-down stop and then driving to within 15 yards of the end zone before the Rams got two final stops to end the comeback. After an incompletion in the direction of TE Brandon Myers brought the clock down to four seconds, Winston scrambled on the final play but was tackle by Quinn at the 10-yard line.

Winston broke into the open on the last play but couldn't find an open man against an eight-man defensive flood in the end zone. As he tried to stall the defense to give himself a chance to make it to the end zone, Winston was swarmed over from behind by Quinn.

"I was just trying to bait them," said Winston. "I've got to give a guy a chance to catch the football, but they just stopped us."

Brate's second touchdown catch of the game pulled the Bucs back within five points just minutes later, but a critical pass-interference penalty on CB Alterraun Verner got the Rams out of a third-and-17 hole on the ensuing drive. With a previously-contained Todd Gurley suddenly breaking off significant chunks of yards – he would finish with 85 yards and two touchdowns – the Rams got to midfield and then scored on a 47-yard catch by WR Tavon Austin. The Bucs answered with a quick score of their own on Jameis Winston's seven-yard pass to WR Mike Evans, but ultimately came up short after the delay.

"We believe in each other," said Brate. "When you've got a quarterback like Jameis and a receiver like Mike, when those two are on the same page they're really hard to stop. We made some really nice plays on that [final touchdown] drive. We had a good drive going there at the end, too; we just kind of ran out of time."

With the loss, the Buccaneers dropped to 1-2 on the season, although they could still be in a tie for the NFC South lead by the end of the week. The Carolina Panthers lost to Minnesota earlier in the afternoon to drop to 1-2, with the 1-1 Atlanta Falcons set to play the 0-2 New Orleans Saints on Monday night.

The Rams came into the night with a total of nine points scored in their own 1-1 start, still looking for their first touchdown of the season. They got that on the game's opening drive, with QB Case Keenum hitting WR Brian Quick on a 44-yard touchdown pass. Keenum finished the game with 190 yards on 14-of-26 passing with two touchdowns, though LB Kwon Alexander victimized him for a 38-yard pick-six in the first quarter.

The Buccaneers took a 20-17 lead into halftime, though the Rams pulled close on a one-yard Gurley touchdown that was the result of a Mark Barron interception of an on-target pass that was juggled by RB Charles Sims. The Bucs could have conceivably had a one-touchdown lead midway through the third quarter, but a missed extra point and a misfire on a 41-yard field goal by rookie K Roberto Aguayo left four points on the board. Los Angeles took the lead for good on Gurley's second touchdown in the third quarter, which came on the drive set up by Aguayo's miss.

Winston threw more than 50 passes for the second week in a row, this time completing 36 of 58 for 405 yards, three touchdowns and one interceptions. His favorite target was once again Evans, who hauled in 10 of 13 passes thrown his way for 132 yards and a score. He is the first player in franchise history to record a touchdown catch in each of the Buccaneers' first three games of the season. Brate's first career two-TD game and a career-high nine receptions for 100 yards by slot receiver Adam Humphries kept the chains moving in the absence of a strong running game. Playing without starting RB Doug Martin, the Bucs ran 22 times for 83 yards, 23 of those coming on a fourth-and-one breakaway by Sims late in the fourth quarter.

Tampa Bay's pass protection was mostly strong against a very good Rams defensive front, allowing only two sacks, one of which was essentially erased by a roughing-the-passer call. However, the second one was Quinn's strip-sack that ultimately proved to be the difference.

The Buccaneers ended up with 472 net yards to the Rams' 320 and an equal turnover ratio, with both teams scoring touchdowns off both of their takeaways. LB Lavonte David led the Bucs' defensive charge with eight tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, a quarterback hit and a forced fumble. Alexander added a tackle for loss and seven stops to his pick-six, which was the Buccaneers' first takeaway of the season. Playing without starting DE Robert Ayers, the Buccaneers only sacked Keenum once and hit him twice.

The Rams, who failed to score a touchdown in their first two games, found the end zone on the game's opening possession. Two Keenum passes to Austin, one converting a third-and-seven early in the drive, got the ball to midfield and then the Rams scored on another third-and-seven conversion, this one a deep post to Brian Quick for a 47-yard touchdown.

Tampa Bay's first possession went nowhere thanks to a clipping penalty on TE Brandon Myers, but the home team got on the scoreboard minutes later. On third-and-four from the Rams' 35, Keenum tried to throw a quick buttonhook to Austin but Alexander read it perfectly, jumped the route and intercepted the pass on the run for a 38-yard pick-six. Aguayo missed the extra point to leave the Bucs down by a point.

After an exchange of punts, the Bucs had the Rams backed up thanks to a sack and a tipped pass by David on consecutive plays. However, a third-and-18 draw play worked perfectly as Benny Cunningham raced up the middle for 22 yards. Alexander's third-down pass break-up forced the Rams to try a 53-yard field goal but outstanding long-range kicker Greg Zuerlein hit it to extend the lead to four points.

The Bucs grabbed their first lead on the ensuing drive, marching 75 yards on nine plays to set up Sims's one-yard touchdown plunge over left guard. Operating largely out of the no-huddle, Winston was six-for-six on the drive for 78 yards, including a 19-yarder to Evans to get the drive started and a little screen that Humphries turned into 31 yards. The Bucs went for it on fourth-and-one from the Rams 16 and converted on Winston's rollout strike to Evans to the two. Three Sims runs punched it in from there. Aguayo's extra point put the Bucs up by three with 11 minutes left in the half.

The Bucs' defense got the ball back for the offense just minutes later, as David forced a fumble by Britt and Conte recovered to set up a new drive at the Rams' 43. Rodgers came in to spell Sims and touched the ball on the first five plays, leading to a pair of first downs to the Rams' 19. A holding penalty put the Bucs in a tough situation but Winston converted a third-and-14 with a hard pass down the seam to Brate for 20 yards. On first-and-goal from the three, Winston faked a handoff, rolled right, avoided one defender and threw to Brate, who made a dazzling one-handed catch for the score.

The Rams got close to midfield on their next possession but Gerald McCoy and Chris Conte combined to stop Gurley dead in his tracks on a third-and-one, leading to a Rams punt. However, Los Angeles got another scoring opportunity before halftime thanks to the Buccaneers' first turnover on offense. On a shallow out to Sims, CB Trumaine Johnson hit the back before he could haul it in, causing a deflection that went directly to LB Mark Barron for the interception at the Bucs' 22.

It took most of the rest of the half for Los Angeles to convert that takeaway into points, thanks to a succession of penalties on both sides. On third-and-goal from the one with 28 seconds left, Gurley got a handoff out of the shotgun and was able to just push across for the score.

The second half opened with four straight punts, the last one caused by a third-down hit by DE Howard Jones on Keenum. Two big catches by Evans got the Bucs into field goal range but Aguayo's 41-yard attempt was wide left.

The Rams thus took over at their own 31 and promptly drove 69 yards for the go-ahead score. Getting Gurley on track was the key, as he had two nine-yard first-down runs to open play-action throws for Keenum. Gurley's own spinning, stumbling 16-yard run to the one set up his second touchdown of the game on a one-yard plunge.

The Bucs' next drive started with a quick 14-yard strike to Brate, but a holding call on T Demar Dotson put the offense in a deep hole. Winston kept the march alive with a 17-yard strike to Evans on third-and-14, then hit the same target twice in succession for gains of 11 and 15 to the Rams' 17. What looked like a brilliant drive suddenly turned terrible as Quinn swiped the ball out of Winston's hand on a third-down drop-back. Westbrooks, a 270-pound defensive end, was the first one to the ball, and he was able to return it 77 yards for a touchdown. Winston chased him the length of the field but couldn't get through a picket of blockers at the end.

A well-executed screen pass to Sims picked up 33 yards and put the Bucs right back into scoring position. An amazing diving catch by WR Russell Shepard made it third-and-goal at the one and a play-action fake got Brate wide open for his second touchdown of the day. The Bucs tried to go for two to make it a three-point game but Winston's pass sailed well over Vincent Jackson's head.

Two stops of Gurley behind the line of scrimmage by Lavonte David and Clinton McDonald put the Rams into an immediate third-and-17 hole on the ensuing drive, but the flag on Verner kept the Rams in possession. Moments later, a misdirection through to Austin worked perfectly for a 47-yard score, giving the visitors a 12-point lead with four-and-a-half minutes to play.

A 29-yard ramble by Humphries after a short catch converted a third-and-20 on the ensuing drive and put the Bucs across midfield. Humphries made another catch in traffic to set up a fourth-and-one at the Rams' 30 and Sims' not only broke through the line on fourth down but also got free to the right sideline, racing down to the seven. Two plays later, Winston scrambled and threw what looked like a blind pass perfectly on target to Evans in the middle of the end zone.

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