By Tom Brady – Tampa Bay Buccaneers Writer
In what was arguably the best offensive performance in recent Buccaneers history, Tampa Bay defied all odds and came away from the LA Coliseum with a 55-40 win, defeating reigning NFC Champions the Los Angeles Rams.
The game will go down as a classic after the Buccaneers eclipsed their previous single-game points record of 48 and firmly cemented their place as the most unpredictable team in the NFL. They showed that, when everything clicks, they can beat anybody.
Straight out the blocks
It was clear from the first quarter that the Bucs hadn’t turned up to be rolled over by a strong LA Rams side. The start was similar to the one made last week (vs Giants). On the first drive of the game, quarterback Jameis Winston drove down the field, allowing running back Peyton Barber to get a 5-yard rushing touchdown and a dream start for the Bucs.
Many Bucs fans would be forgiven if they thought this would be the only time they’d lead in this ball game. But this team were on a mission. With the sad news that General Manager Jason Licht had to deal with his father suddenly passing the night before the game, Tampa Bay looked like a different beast. The tackles were harder, the throws more accurate and the focus was at 100%. Licht is one of the nicest guys in the NFL and it’s clear the Bucs players wanted to respect him by putting on a show… and boy, did they!
It was an offensive masterclass by Head Coach Bruce Arians and Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich but the Buccaneers defense showed that they were there to play too. The second quarter started with Rams QB Jared Goff being forced by linebacker Shaq Barrett (who else?!) to balloon a throw into the air, which was picked off by safety Jordan Whitehead. Winston then found wider receiver Chris Godwin on consecutive throws, including one in the end zone and the Bucs had a 14-point lead. Was it time to believe?
On the very next play, the defense stepped up again. In my opinion, linebacker Lavonte David is the most underrated defensive player in the NFL and if he had been on the Patriots or Cowboys, he’d be a Pro-Bowler every year. David picked off Goff in a brilliantly disguised drop back and the ball was back with Tampa. Winston found Godwin on a short pass and Godwin did the rest, smashing three Rams defenders out the way to get his second TD of the game. This is the stage where I realised a huge difference in the Bucs. Despite being 21 points up, the celebrations were muted and there was an overwhelming sense of focus and determination on the Bucs sideline.
After a lackluster start, it was only a matter of time before the brilliant Rams offence clicked into gear. Star running back Todd Gurley burst through to get the first points of the day for LA and Goff then found Everett, bringing the score to 21-14.
The Bucs responded immediately with another positive drive down field and Ronald Jones rushing into the end zone for his second TD of the year. There was still time before the half for Rams kicker Zuerlein to drill a 58-yard field goal and a crazy first half ended Bucs 28-17 Rams.
Second half – is this really the Bucs?
The second half started with another Rams field goal but at this stage, exchanging field goals was not enough for them. Winston and the Bucs offense was on fire. Jameis had a monster day with 385 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception. It was also a break-out day for WR Chris Godwin, who matched Mike Evans’ performance last week by accruing 12 receptions, 172 yards and two touchdowns.
Following a field goal for the Bucs, a crazy play by Goff and the Rams on fourth down gifted the Buccaneers the ball. Indecision between the Rams QB and the play caller led to an awful pass, which was picked off by Shaq Barrett (who is quickly becoming my favourite Buc for a long time). The Bucs took over at midfield and after a string of Winston passes, he found the human safety blanket in tight end Cameron Brate for another Buccaneers touchdown. In case you’re getting a bit lost scoreboard-wise, which is perfectly understandable, this made it 38-20 Bucs.
For me, the Brate touchdown was the nail in the coffin for the Rams. At 31-20 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Rams still had a shot. But to claw back 18 points with 14 minutes left was a huge task.
The Rams did put up a valiant effort though. Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles changed the Bucs’ defensive strategy for a short period, allowing Goff to make numerous short passes and easily get up field, ending in a short run for Gurley’s second TD. The stat sheet will show two touchdowns for Gurley but aside from this, he was pretty limited by an outstanding Bucs defense.
On the next Bucs possession, Winston stunned the Rams, the Coliseum and probably Bucs fans too. He produced a dime to Evans for a 75-yard touchdown but the Bucs hit back straight away. In previous games, Tampa Bay may have panicked, but not today. Winston was assured and calm, and really produced when he needed to.
A Cooper Kupp TD and pick-six (which remained a six as the Rams missed the two-point conversion) from corner Marcus Peters gave the Rams hope. But another great Bucs drive, including a bulldozing run from Ronald Jones, gave kicker Matt Gay a chip shot to extend the lead to 48-40 with three minutes to go. LA had the ball back and needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion to draw level.
But a perfect game even had a perfect ending for Tampa. Bowles made a gutsy call and reverted back to the linebacker blitzing that was so successful for the majority of this game. It was man of the moment Shaq Barrett who got into Goff’s face yet again, forcing a fumble. The ball was picked up by ex-Ram Ndamukong Suh and it was time for ‘BIG MAN WITH FOOTBALL!’ Suh showed outrageous speed for a guy who is 6’3″ and over 300 pounds, tearing into the Rams end zone and sealing a historic win.
In what has been described as an ‘ugly loss’ in numerous LA reviews, I wholeheartedly disagree. This was one of the most entertaining games I’ve ever watched and it just happened to be my team that came out of top. Even the Rams should appreciate how well-drilled the Buccaneers were on both offense and defense. Tampa Bay went to the Coliseum and beat the Rams at their own game and I couldn’t be prouder of every single Buc for proving me and everyone else wrong. Who’d have thought?
Player(s) of the game: I want to give a mention to a few Bucs here. Firstly, Jameis Winston, who fell apart in the second half against the Giants, showed he can be an elite quarterback for the Buccaneers for the first time in a while. His huge stat line didn’t show the whole story either as a younger Jameis would have gotten over-excited at an early 21-point lead and blown it. In this game, the QB showed maturity, patience and brilliantly led his team to victory. The news that Arians has been working with Winston on the mental side of his game, and not worrying about being the face of the franchise, seems to have worked as he appeared far more relaxed in this performance.
Secondly, kicker Matt Gay was scrutinized (not by me may I add!) after missing a last-second field goal last week. But Gay shut everyone up by being perfect on the day, making both field goals (including a huge 58-yarder) and all six(!) extra points. Gay is a really solid kicker and he’ll be with the Bucs for a while.
Thirdly, receiver Chris Godwin had a day. The former Penn State man proved he is worthy of being WR1, let alone the second option behind Mike Evans, and we’re lucky to have him on our team.
Finally, and what is classed as my ‘player’ of the game, is the Bucs offensive line. This group has been battered with abuse from most Bucs fans since Winston was drafted. However, Winston had more time than I’ve ever seen in this game and it showed, with Tampa amassing 55 points. The line held off tackle Aaron Donald and linebacker Clay Matthews among others and if they can perform like this every week, this Bucs offense will win us a ton of games.
(Feature Photo – Credit: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports)