The Tampa Bay Buccaneers scored early in the first half and then again just before it ended, but the St. Louis Rams were in control in between, building a 17-6 halftime lead at Raymond James Stadium.
Both of the Bucs' scores were field goals, including the game-opener after a takeaway inside the St. Louis 10-yard line. Meanwhile, Rams rookie QB Sam Bradford threw touchdown passes to Danny Amendola and Michael Hoomanawanui and RB Steven Jackson ran for 74 yards to power a pair of long drives.
QB Josh Freeman completed seven of 15 passes for 73 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions and also ran three times for 29 yards, but he operated under constant pressure and absorbed three sacks. The Bucs were also hurt by a rash of penalties, drawing six flags in the half. One penalty erased an apparent touchdown catch by TE Kellen Winslow and another reignited a Rams drive and turned a field goal into a touchdown.
The Bucs won the toss and got a nice 27-yard return from Preston Parker to put the opening line of scrimmage at the 30. The first play from scrimmage was a good one, too, as Freeman scrambled around right end and got exactly enough yardage for a first down. Freeman went up top in Mike Williams' direction on the next play, a fine play-action pass, but Williams was well-covered and the pass was incomplete. A quick pass down the line to Arrelious Benn was good for nine yards, but the Bucs failed on a third-and-one run by Kregg Lumpkin out of the fullback spot. The Bucs initially sent out the punting unit but, after a measurement, elected to go for it and were able to move the chains on Freeman's keeper over right guard. A breakaway run by Blount was erased by offsetting penalties, but he came back on the resulting first down and pounded up the middle again for six more yards. On third-and-four, Freeman tried to escape up the middle but was stopped for no gain by DE C.J. Ah You. The Bucs had to punt and Robert Malone's kick was fair caught at the 13.
The Rams threw on first down, but WR Brandon Gibson was well-covered by CB Aqib Talib on a little fade and it was incomplete on the sideline. The Rams then false-started to make it second-and-15, and the Bucs' defense got immediate penetration on the next play, stopping Jackson for no gain. On the next play, the Tampa Bay ends got around the edge quickly, sandwiching Bradford, and White's hit forced a fumble that DE Kyle Moore recovered at the St. Louis six.
Given such great field position, the Bucs unfortunately began moving backward. TE Kellen Winslow caught an apparent touchdown pass in the back left corner but was flagged for offensive pass interference. C Jeremy Zuttah then drew a holding call and Freeman was sacked for a loss of nine Jermelle Cudjo and James Hall. That made it first-and-goal at the 35, which is something you don't see often. An incredible catch by Mike Williams (and his own impressive effort to get back to the ball after he fumbled) at least got the ball back to the 16, from where Connor Barth nailed a 35-yard field goal for a 3-0 Bucs lead.
Jackson escaped a leg tackle at the line of scrimmage to bounce outside and gain eight yards on first down to start the Rams' next drive. Ronde Barber's run blitz around the same edge on second down allowed him to trip up Jackson and make it third-and-one at the St. Louis 30. FB Mike Karney barreled up the middle on the next play to get just enough for a new set of downs. One-time Buccaneer Kenneth Darby got the next handoff out of a split backfield with Jackson and he found a seam up the middle for eight yards. A play-action screen pass to Jackson worked perfectly as Jackson was wide open on the right side for a gain of 14. Quincy Black deflected Bradford's next pass at the line but Jackson broke free again, this time to the left for a gain of 12. The Rams' good play-calling continued as the Bucs blitzed on the next play and a screen to Darby went for 19 yards to the Bucs' 15. Two plays later, Black pressured Bradford into an incompletion, and the Rams followed with a false start. Bradford threw over the middle to Jackson on third-and-14 but the Bucs got him down at the eight as the first quarter came to an end. After the teams switched sides, K Josh Brown hit a 25-yard field goal to tie the game.
After a false start made it first-and-15 at the 28 on the ensuing drive, Freeman threw a bit behind Winslow in the left flat and the tight end couldn't pull it in. The Bucs never pulled the drive back together, as Freeman was flushed from the pocket and forced to throw it away on third-and-14. The Rams held on the punt return that followed, forcing them back to their own 20 to start their third drive.
A receiver screen to Danny Amendola worked when S Sean Jones slipped, giving the receiver room to run to the 38. Two Jackson runs moved the ball to the midfield stripe, and an end-around by Amendola picked up 21 more. Bradford took a crack at the end zone two plays later but CB E.J. Biggers had great coverage on Gibson and was able to knock the ball away. The Bucs knocked down the next pass, too, but had jumped offside, making it third-and-one. Jackson easily converted that on a toss-sweep to the left. Jackson then burst up the middle for 12 yards for a first down at the six. Three plays later, Bradford threw quickly against a blitz and hit Amendola for a five-yard score.
The Bucs appeared to get their next drive started nicely with a 16-yard catch by Winslow but it was erased by a holding call against T Donald Penn. Freeman's next pass was nearly intercepted by LB Na'il Diggs, and he was hit as he threw on third down to force an incompletion. Malone's next punt went just 34 yards, allowing St. Louis to start in Bucs territory.
Jackson's runs of seven and 18 yards put the Rams back into the red zone in a hurry, but the Bucs held at that point and Brown came on to try another field goal. Unfortunately, Barber came across the line early on the kick, resulting in an offside penalty and a first down for the Rams. Talib narrowly missed an interception on the next play, allowing the Rams a third-down crack at it. Bradford made it count, rolling out to his right and hitting TE Michael Hoomanawanui for a two-yard score.
Micheal Spurlock's quick-hitting kickoff return got the ball out to the 36 on the ensuing kickoff, and two consecutive screen passes to Cadillac Williams went for a total of 15 yards. However, Freeman didn't feel the backside pressure of Ah You and was sacked for a loss of 14 yards, fumbling in the process. The Bucs recovered the ball but faced a third-and-16; Freeman took off downfield and raced to the sticks on the left sideline. He was originally ruled to be down a few inches short of the first down, but the play was reviewed by the booth and the spot was changed to the 39. That was just enough for a first down, and WR Sammie Stroughter avoided several tacklers on his next catch to get down to the 21. Freeman tried to hit Williams on the sideline twice but both passes were incomplete; on third-and-10, he was hit as he threw by DE Chris Long and the Bucs were fortunate that the resulting pop-up was not pulled down by one of several Rams defenders who jumped for it. Barth hit from 39 yards out to make the score 17-6 at halftime.