If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had three more seconds Sunday, they might have gotten three more points and their first victory of 2014.
Instead, the Buccaneers absorbed a painful, 19-17 loss to the visiting St. Louis Rams at Raymond James Stadium to fall to 0-2 on the season. The game featured five lead changes and the home team had a chance to make it six until a clock-management rule brought it to an anticlimactic end.
Rookie WR Mike Evans' caught a 29-yard pass at the Rams' 32-yard line with eight seconds left in regulation, potentially giving the Buccaneers a chance to spike the ball and try a 50-yard field goal with rookie K Patrick Murray. However, Evans was shaken up on the play, and before he could stand up and get in line for the clock-killing snap, Referee Jeff Triplette stopped the action due to the presence of an injured player on the field. Since the Buccaneers had no timeouts remaining, they were subject to a 10-second runoff by rule, ending the game.
Sensing the problem posed by Evans' difficulty getting up, teammates tried to pull him to his feet and get him in line but Triplette immediately shook his head and made the decisive call.
"Before the drive started, I told the guys, 'Every time you see me throw it start sprinting towards the ball,'" said QB Josh McCown, who stepped up in the pocket and delivered a hard pass down the middle of the field on that play. "'Start sprinting towards the ball because we can get on it and get it clocked. And every person did a great job of getting up there. Unfortunately, [Evans] wasn't feeling good. We tried to get him up and keep him on the field but at that point they blew it did and the ballgame was over. So that's unfortunate, because the 35 is usually our spot [to try a field goal]. We would have loved to have Pat get a crack at that thing."
While that was a particularly tough way for the Buccaneers to see their last chance at victory slip away, the players insisted that the game was not decided by that play alone. And, indeed, they might not have needed those three extra seconds without such game-turning moments as a blocked punt, a blocked field goal and an interception near the Rams' goal line.
"That's why you have to take advantage of your opportunities," said CB Alterraun Verner. "You can't let it come down to one play. One play doesn't win or lose a game. It's multiple plays throughout the game, and opportunities. They blocked a field goal – they won by two points and blocked a field goal. The plays they made, the turnovers they got, the turnovers we didn't get, they blocked a punt. So they had all those things and we didn't do enough of that and that's why the score ended up in their favor."
The last big play of the game – unless one counts the hit by S T.J. McDonald that left Evans struggling to get up in the final seconds – belonged to third-string QB Austin Davis and Rams receiver Austin Pettis. Facing a third-and-nine at midfield with two minutes left in the game, Davis threw down the seam to Pettis for a 27-yard gain. That allowed the Rams to run three times, erasing the Bucs' three timeouts, and then attempt the game-winning field goal. Greg Zuerlein made the strategy work with a 38-yarder, his fourth of the game.
"It's pretty simple: They made plays and we didn't," said Verner. "The last seam route that they caught, the receiver made a great catch. He made a play and we didn't make a play. We had opportunities that we could have done something, and we didn't. You've got to give the Rams credit. They came out and knew it was going to be a tough game with [Davis at quarterback], who they hadn't seen much. They rallied behind him and made plays."
Game action photos from the second half of Bucs vs. Rams.
The Buccaneers' defense on that final drive bore only a passing resemblance to the one they opened the season with just seven days earlier. Due to a variety of injuries in the opener and on Sunday against the Rams, Tampa Bay was without three of their starting defensive linemen (Michael Johnson, Adrian Clayborn and Gerald McCoy), their middle linebacker (Mason Foster) and, at various times, starting safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron. McCoy who suffered a hand injury in the first quarter, was obviously missed, as the Bucs struggled to pressure the Rams' young passer, sacking him just twice and allowing him time to complete 22 of 29 passes for 235 yards and a 99.1 passer rating. While Verner stressed that injuries are something every team faces, and the Bucs have complete confidence in their reserves, the team now must figure out what their lineup will look like in a hurry, with a Week Three game at Atlanta looming on Thursday night.
"We've got to come together and get our stuff together," said DT Clinton McDonald, who had one of those two sacks. "We've just got to come back to work tomorrow and get ready to go beat the Falcons. It's like a pitcher – you've got to let it go. If you give up a home run, you let one go, so you've just got to get it back. We've got to get it back."
The Bucs were also playing without starting RB Doug Martin due to a knee injury, but that absence didn't end up hurting the team as reserve Bobby Rainey stepped in and carried 22 times for 144 yards. The Bucs racked up 157 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, though it was actually McCown who ran it in both times. McCown also completed 16 of 21 passes for 179 yards and was sacked only once, but the offense struggled to convert in the red zone.
McCown led long scoring drives on the Bucs' first possession of each half, the latter giving the team a 14-10 lead in the third quarter. Leading by one point in the closing seconds of the final quarter, the Bucs tried a draw play on third-and-seven from the nine but Rainey's' run came up four yards short. The resulting field goal attempt by Murray was blocked to start the final period and the Rams took the next possession in for a go-ahead field goal. The Bucs immediately drove back into scoring range but failed on runs by Mike James on second and third down, needing two yards, and thus had to settle for a field goal try again. Murray made this one but it wasn't enough to hold up in the end.
"That's the thing, we've got to get seven," said McCown. "We chose to run the ball and pound it. It's just unfortunate that
we didn't get it done. This hurts. It hurts. Everyone's frustrated, and we all have to look at ourselves – I have to look at myself – and see what we can do better. We're close, but it isn't good enough."
Tampa Bay accomplished its goal of starting fast, on offense at least. McCown led a 10-play, 77-yard drive to start the game, completing all four of his passes for 25 yards and running the ball into the end zone on third-and-goal from the five. Rainey gained 24 yards on his first carry to get his own strong game started on the right note.
However, the defense couldn't make the lead stand, as Davis promptly answered with a 10-play, 80-yard drive that ended on Zac Stacy's two-yard run. McCoy was hurt near the end of that drive, and though he briefly returned to the game in second quarter he was then ruled out for the rest of the afternoon. The Buccaneers looked as if they would make it two-for-two on scoring drives, as McCown marched the team back down to the St. Louis nine on the next possession. However, the Bucs' quarterback then made an ill-advised throw across his body while scrambling away from pressure and the ball was intercepted at the two-yard line by S Rodney McLeod.
A lightning delay of 51 minutes interrupted the game with six minutes left in the first half. After play resumed, the Rams got a prime scoring opportunity just before halftime by blocking a Michael Koenen punt attempt. The Bucs held just inside the red zone but the Rams came away with three points on Zuerlein's 36-yard field goal.
A fluky fumble by Stacy gave the Bucs the ball near midfield near the start of the second half and the result was a 60-yard touchdown drive. McCown completed all three of his passes for 44 yards – all to Jackson – then ran the ball in from on a bootleg after a 10-yard Rainey run. The Rams countered with a 14-play, 68-yard drive to set up Zuerlein's second field goal, but the home team got right back into scoring range on Chris Owusu's 45-yard kickoff return, onto which a facemask penalty was tacked at the end.
It was the Rams that scored next, however, as E.J. Gaines' block of Patrick Murray's short field goal try kept the score at 14-13. St. Louis took the ensuing possession 49 yards to set up Zuerlein's third field goal, a 45-yarder, to put the visitors up by two with nine minutes to play.
A roughing-the-passer flag on third down helped keep the Bucs' next drive alive, and Rainey then ripped off a 31-yard run to the Rams' 24. Three more runs failed to produce another first down, but Murray came back to try a second field goal and this time banged it home from 36 yards out to give the Bucs a one-point lead with six minutes to play.
WR Russell Shepard tripped up return man Chris Givens on the ensuing kickoff to trap the Rams at their own nine. However, Davis converted a pair of third downs while driving the Rams 71 yards on 12 plays for the winning points. St. Louis converted five of 11 third-down tries on the day and committed only one turnover on the Stacy fumble.
The Bucs did come out throwing, with McCown hitting Myers on a play-action pass on the first play from scrimmage. Rainey got the ball into Rams territory on the next play with a 24-yard run, as he darted and weaved through several layers of the Rams' defense. Rainey was bottled up on a third-and-one sweep from the Rams' 35 but the chains moved anyway when St. Louis was flagged for a horse-collar tackle. Evans ran an underneath route on third-and-four and caught a sharp pass from McCown for a first-and-goal at the nine. Three plays later, on third-and-goal from the five, McCown used his legs to get it into the end zone, scrambling up the middle and then cutting left to avoid a final Rams tackler.
The Rams moved the ball well on their opening drive, as well, with Davis escaping a near sack on third-and-four to hit RB Benny Cunningham for a first down and then firing a 16-yard shot over the middle to WR Brian Quick. Now on the Bucs' side of the field, the Rams got help from an offsides call and then got it down to the 14 on an 18-yard Tavon Austin end-around. The Rams punched it in two plays later on Stacy's two-yard run. Two Rainey runs moved the sticks to start the next drive after a touchback, but a holding call on Anthony Collins two plays later put the Bucs into a deep hole. A well-blocked screen pass to Rainey was good for 14 yards, setting up third-and-seven. McCown had plenty of time to throw on third down but his dart in Evans' direction was incomplete. Both teams were flagged for contact on the play, however, and that led to a replay of the down on the first play of the second quarter.
That play worked, but barely, as Evans caught a pass over the middle right at the sticks (as confirmed by measurement). Two plays later, McCown stepped up through a crease in the pocket and threw a hard, low pass to Myers over the middle down to the St. Louis 36. Three plays later, on third-and-two, Rainey shot over left guard, found the second level and got 19 yards to the Rams' nine. Unfortunately, McCown tried to throw across his body while scrambling on the next play and the result was an interception by McLeod at the Rams' two.
St. Louis got one first down to get out of trouble but then stalled at their 22. Unfortunately, Pro Bowl punter Johnny Hekker predictably blasted a deep shot and CB Crezdon Butler was flagged for holding on the fair catch, pushing the ball all the way back to the Bucs' 15. The Bucs had to punt it back quickly after a three-and-out ending on a sack by Eugene Sims and E.J. Gaines.
CB Alterraun Verner dropped Cunningham for a loss of three on the first play of the ensuing drive, and S Mark Barron broke up a second-down pass to Austin that would have moved the chains. Austin was hurt on the play. Before the Rams could run their next play, the refs suspended the game due to lightning.
After a 51-minute delay, the Rams ran a draw on third-and-13 and had to punt when it came up a few yards short. Solomon Patton had a bit of trouble holding onto the ensuing punt and the Bucs had to start again at their own 19. An impressive seven-yard run by Rainey which included several broken tackles made it third-and-two but a pitch to Rainey didn't work. Even worse, Koenen's punt was then blocked by S T.J. McDonald, who broke free up the middle.
That gave the visitors possession at the Bucs' 28, and two Stacy runs made it first-and-10 at the 17 as the two-minute warning arrived. Tampa Bay brought a big blitz up the middle on third-and-five from the 12 and Davis dropped the shotgun snap. He fell on it to avoid a turnover but the Rams had to settle for Greg Zuerlein's 30-yard field goal. Zuerlein actually missed his first attempt, but Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher had called timeout a moment earlier, and the second kick went through the uprights with 39 seconds left in the half.
St. Louis got the ball to start the second half and got quickly into Bucs territory on catches of 15 yards by Chris Givens and 13 yards by Austin Pettis, but the home team turned that drive away with its first takeaway of the season. While attempting a diving tackle of Stacy, DE Scott Solomon had his foot inadvertently kick up behind him and hit the running back in the facemask. The ball popped loose and S Dashon Goldson recovered for the Bucs at their own 40.
The Bucs also turned that first turnover into points, driving 60 yards on seven plays and once again finishing on a McCown touchdown run. After three sharp outside passes to Jackson got the ball into scoring territory, Rainey sliced up the middle for a 10-run to the one-yard line. On first-and-goal, McCown faked a handoff to Rainey, spun and ran to the left, eventually diving between two defenders into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
Clinton McDonald broke right up the middle on the first play of the next drive, dropping Davis for a sack at the Rams' five. However, an encroachment call on a leaping 22-yard sideline catch by TE Jared Cook gave the Rams a first down at the 32. A deep pass down the right seam to Kenny Britt got the ball down to the Bucs' 22 but the drive stalled at the 17 and the Rams once again settled for a field goal, this one a 35-yarder that Zuerlein knocked through to make it a one-point game.
The Rams tried a low bouncing kickoff but it backfired when Owusu, playing the position of Solomon Patton's escort, fielded the ball and shot through a gap to the right sideline to get 45 yards. A facemask penalty on the end moved the ball 15 more yards to the Rams' 30. Two plays later, Rainey took a handoff on a draw and shot into the open for an 18-yard gain to the 12-yard line. After two more Rainey carries left it at third-and-seven, the Bucs tried the same draw play and it worked, but only for three yards, leading to Patrick Murray's first NFL field goal attempt. The attempt didn't come until the first play of the fourth quarter, and it was not successful, as Gaines broke through the right edge of the line and blocked the kick before it got back to the line of scrimmage. The Rams recovered the ball and returned it to their own 24.
- The Buccaneers declared the following players inactive prior to Sunday's game: RB Doug Martin, CB Rashaan Melvin, T Kevin Pamphile, G Rishaw Johnson, G Kadeem Edwards, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and DE Michael Johnson. Martin, Melvin, Seferian-Jenkins and Michael Johnson were out due to injury.
- The Rams deactivated the following players: DB Lamarcus Joyner, CB Trumaine Johnson, RB Tre Mason, RB Trey Watts, G/C Barrett Jones, DT Matt Conrath and TE Alex Bayer. Joyner and Johnson were out due to injury.
- Tampa Bay took the opening drive 77 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown, scoring on Josh McCown's five-yard scramble. That marked the first time the Bucs scored on the first possession of the game since Bobby Rainey's 80-yard touchdown run to open the team's win over Buffalo last December 8.
- Rams S T.J. McDonald blocked a Michael Koenen punt in the second quarter, giving the Rams possession at the Bucs' 28. That was the first punt blocked by a Buccaneer opponent since Shaun Draughn of the Kansas City Chiefs did it to Koenen on Oct. 14, 2012.
- Josh McCown scored on touchdown runs of five yards in the first quarter and one yard in the third quarter. That marks just the second time in his career that he has scored twice on the ground in the same game. He also did it against St. Louis on December 19, 2004 while starting for the Arizona Cardinals. The last Buccaneer quarterback to pull off that feat was Steve Young, who did it against Buffalo on Nov. 2, 1986. That is also the only other two-rushing-TD game for a Buccaneer quarterback, in fact.