The 2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have perfected the art of long-range scoring, doing that better than any other team in franchise history. On Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, it was once again the up-close opportunities that eluded them in a 28-13 loss to the visiting St. Louis Rams.
The Buccaneers suffered their fifth straight defeat and fell to 6-9 in their final home outing of 2012, with the season finale coming next weekend in Atlanta. The Rams improved to 7-6-1.
Tampa Bay's offense picked up 429 yards of offense to the Rams' 285 but got a total of three points on three drives that reached inside the St. Louis 10-yard line. Those missed opportunities stopped the Bucs from keeping pace with QB Sam Bradford and the Rams, who scored 21 points off five Buccaneer turnovers, including a 41-yard interception return by rookie CB Janoris Jenkins in the second quarter.
Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman threw for 372 yards and hit WR Mike Williams for a 61-yard touchdown in the third quarter. However, he was intercepted four times for the second game in a row, which means he has been picked off as many times in the past two weeks as he had been in the Buccaneers' first 13 games.
That proved to be a little too much holiday giving for the Bucs' defense, which held St. Louis to the second-lowest yardage total by a Tampa Bay opponent this year but saw both of its takeaways returned to the Rams almost immediately. Danny Amendola's fumble on the Rams' second play of the game, forced by a hard hit from CB Leonard Johnson, was briefly recovered by Johnson but he then fumbled it back at the St. Louis three. CB Danny Gorrer intercepted Bradford in the end zone on the second play of the second quarter but Jenkins' pick-six followed moments later.
Williams' long catch-and-run came after the Rams had scored two quick touchdowns right after halftime. St. Louis scored on the first play of the second half, in fact, on an 80-yard TD catch by TE Lance Kendricks that appeared to be some form of coverage mistake, as there were no defenders in the middle of the field. Freeman was intercepted by Trumaine Johnson moments later, leading to a short scoring drive that ended in Bradford's five-yard TD pass to WR Austin Pettis.
Freeman hit Williams seven times for 132 yards and WR Vincent Jackson another seven times for 108 yards. The Bucs' quarterback threw a season-high 54 passes for the second week in a row but was under heavy pressure, absorbing a season-high five sacks. That marked the first time all season that the Bucs' offensive line had allowed more than two sacks in a game.
The Bucs tried to establish the running game early but the Rams stifled rookie RB Doug Martin early and then diminished Tampa Bay's running attack by pulling away in the second half. Martin still managed to rack up 119 combined rushing and receiving yards, marking the ninth time this season he has hit triple digits in that category.
After Williams' touchdown, Tampa Bay's defense forced five three-and-outs in St. Louis' next six possessions to keep the home team within striking distance. However, one promising drive that reached the Rams' five-yard line ended when Freeman's fourth-and-one sneak was stopped inches short of the sticks. The Bucs reached the Rams' seven early in the fourth quarter but again came up empty when two fade-pass attempts to Williams failed and a fourth-down throw to Martin was stopped at the three-yard line.
Rookie LB Lavonte David led that Bucs' defense with nine tackles, including yet another tackle for loss, plus a pass defensed. S Mark Barron, another promising rookie, added eight tackles and a pass breakup and Johnson added five stops to his forced fumble, though he missed part of the game with a shoulder injury. Tampa Bay's defense did not record a sack, however, and has just two QB breakdowns in the last two weeks after getting six against Philadelphia in Week 14. Even without the pressure, the Bucs allowed just 13 completions in 27 attempts for 196 yards by Bradford, with almost half of that yardage coming on the one scoring pass to Kendricks.
The Bucs announced their intention to establish the run right away, starting the game with two tight ends and sending Martin over left guard for four yards on the game's first play. An offside penalty helped but Martin's second-down run gained nothing but Freeman's sneak worked, like always, to move the chains. Freeman's first pass was a play-action rollout to FB Erik Lorig that gained seven yard but Martin was swarmed over in the backfield on the next play to make it third-and-seven. Freeman's second pass of the game was a beauty, a downfield laser that Jackson snatched high in the air to gain 19 yards into Rams territory. Freeman scrambled for 12 yards and then threw a bubble-screen to Jackson for nine yards to the Rams' 27. Two well-designed Martin runs took it into the red zone and Jackson took a short pass over the middle down to the seven. The Bucs hurt themselves with a false start and then Long pushed them back six more yards with a false start. The offense couldn't get it in from there, so Barth came in to boot a 29-yard field goal to open the scoring.
For its part, the Bucs' defense announced its intentions loudly on the first few plays, too. After LB Adam Hayward blasted RB Steven Jackson on the Rams' first play while the back was trying to catch a flare pass, Johnson hit Amendola hard enough to force a fumble on the next play. Unfortunately, in the resulting scrum, the Bucs apparently recovered the ball but then fumbled it back, because the result was a new set of downs for St. Louis at its own five. Bradford got his team out of that hole with a sharp 14-yard pass to Chris Givens on third-and-eight, then threw over a big Buccaneer blitz for 20 yards to Brandon Gibson. David forced another third down with a nice pass breakup, but Bradford again had time despite a blitz and he converted with a pass over the middle to Kendricks.
Another exchange of turnovers followed, and this one really went against the Buccaneers. Bradford tried to hit Amendola on a down-out-and-up, but Gorrer didn't bit on the pump fake and was able to stay in position to intercept the pass in the Bucs' end zone. However, on the ensuing drive, Freeman tried to hit Williams down the left sideline but the receiver slipped, making it easy pickings for Jenkins, who returned the interception 41 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.
Clark converted an early third down on the ensuing drive with a ridiculous, spinning, one-armed catch, and then a facemask penalty on LB Rocky McIntosh pushed the ball just past midfield. Quintin Mikell's well-timed blitz from Freeman's blind side led to the Rams' third sack on the next play, but Jenkins' corner blitz on the subsequent third-and-six was sniffed out by Freeman, who threw over it to Williams for seven yards and a first down. Freeman took a shot to the end zone to Jackson two plays later, and Jackson made a dazzling catch over Jenkins, but he could get just one foot inbounds. The Bucs eventually settled for Barth's second field goal, a 49-yarder that made it a one-point game with six minutes left in the half.
The Bucs defense responded with its best series to that point, a three-and-out keyed by David's stop of Jackson in the backfield on second down and Barber's near-interception on third down. After the punt, the Bucs started over at their own 36. After a Williams catch over the middle put the ball back into St. Louis territory, but on the next play Laurinaitis alertly dropped back into coverage just in time to pick off a deep buttonhook pass intended for Jackson.
The Rams used that turnover to drive for their second touchdown. Bradford converted a key third-and-10 from the Bucs' 32 with a 13-yard pass to Gibson, and Jackson finished the drive with a five-yard lunge into the end zone to make it 14-6 at halftime.
The Rams got the ball first to start the second half and scored immediately. Kendricks released off the line straight down the middle of the field and was wide open, catching Bradford's pass on the run and splitting safeties Mark Barron and Ahmad Black for an 80-yard score. Things got worse moments later when CB Trumaine Johnson intercepted a pass intended for Williams down the right numbers. With a first down at the Bucs' 30, the Rams quickly drove for another score, this one ending on Bradford's play-action toss over the middle to WR Austin Pettis for the five-yard TD.
The Bucs' offense was able to match that second score, however, and relatively quickly. Facing a third-and-one at their own 39, the Bucs lined up in a jumbo set but Freeman faked the handoff and dropped back to pass. Freeman found no quick targets, but Williams eventually worked his way open heading left to right and caught a short pass with no defenders around. Williams sprinted down the right sideline, cut inside one potential tackler at the 20 and broke one last tackle inside the 10 to complete the 61-yard score.
The Bucs seemed to carry that momentum over onto defense, and a pair of penalties against the Rams pushed them back to their own three. David spilled Jackson for no gain on second-and-13, and though the Rams back broke several tackles on third down he was dragged down short of the sticks, leading to a punt.
The Bucs went for the block on the punt and the ensuing kick rolled down to the Tampa Bay 31. However, Williams made a toe-tapping catch for 20 yards on third-and-two to get back onto the Rams' side of the field. A spectacular grab by TE Luke Stocker produced another first down and then Freeman found Williams again to get the ball to the Rams' 14. A screen to Jackson made it third-and-one at the Rams' five. However, the Rams pressured Freeman into a quick throwaway on third-down play-action call, and the quarterback's sneak attempt on fourth down came up short, turning the ball over on downs.
The Bucs forced another three-and-out to get the ball back quickly, albeit back at the St. Louis 43 after a punt and an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on the Rams' cover team. Freeman immediately took a pair of cracks downfield, one each to Jackson and Williams, but neither one worked and his third-down pass sailed over Jackson's head.
Yet another defensive three-and-out, this one aided by Anthony Gaitor's third-down PBU, led to another St. Louis punt and the Bucs started again at their own 31. An eight-yard run by Martin and Jackson's eight-yard grab on a rollout right picked up a first down near midfield. Three plays later, on third-and-10, Freeman scrambled forward and threw on the run to Jackson, who caught the pass over the middle and loped down to the Rams' seven-yard line. Three incompletions put the Bucs back in a fourth-and-goal situation, and a short pass in the left flat to Martin came up three yards short.
St. Louis picked up one first down but then punted back, with the Bucs starting at their own 16 at the game's nine-minute mark. A lob to Martin was good for a quick 17 yards but two plays later Freeman's pass was tipped high in the air by DT Michael Brockers and then intercepted by DE Eugene Sims at the Bucs' 39.
The Bucs forced another punt but had to start from deep in their own territory with just 5:32 left. Freeman threw repeatedly underneath to Martin to keep the chains moving, getting to the Rams' 29 with three minutes left. The drive stalled there, however, and once again the Bucs turned it over on downs.
- The Buccaneers declared the following seven players inactive for Sunday's game: CB LeQuan Lewis, RB Michael Smith, G Roger Allen, WR Chris Owusu, WR David Douglas, DT Corvey Irvin and DT Matthew Masifilo. Lewis was out due to injury.
- The Rams deactivated these seven players: QB Austin Davis, WR Steve Smith, RB Terrance Ganaway, TE Cory Harkey, LB Sammy Brown, T Joe Barksdale and DT Matt Conrath. None were out due to injury.
- Buccaneers WR Tiquan Underwood apparently sustained a back injury before kickoff. WR Roscoe Parrish stepped in as the slot receiver, seeing his most extensive action on offense of the season, though he did not have a catch. Underwood did return to the game in the second half and contributed one catch for 18 yards.
- QB Josh Freeman's touchdown pass to Mike Williams in the third quarter was his 26th of the season, surpassing his own single-season high of 25 in 2010 and tying the Buccaneer record set by Brad Johnson in 2003. That also proved to be the 77th touchdown pass of Freeman's career, tying Vinny Testaverde for the top spot in team annals.
- Freeman's 372 passing yards pushed his 2012 season total to 3,843, a new Buccaneer single-season record. Johnson previously set the record at 3,811 in 2003.
- Mike Williams' 61-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter was the Buccaneers' ninth offensive score of at least 60 yards this year. That's the most the team has ever had in a single season.
- Williams finished the game with seven catches for 132 yards, setting a new single-game career-high in yards.