Rams win last-second stunner; spoil Tom Brady, Buccaneers’ wild comeback in NFC Divisional Round

Rams Buccaneers Cooper Kupp
Jan 23, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) runs the ball against Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis (24) during the first half in a NFC Divisional playoff football game at Raymond James Stadium.
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

In the story that is the National Football League, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a narrative arc that contained as much turbulence, drops, and lunacy as the NFC Divisional Round tilt between the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium. 

After blowing a 27-3 second-half lead to Tom Brady and the defending-champion Bucs — allowing the tying score with 42 seconds remaining — veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford’s 44-yard completion to Cooper Kupp with 27 seconds remaining led to Matt Gay’s game-winning 30-yard field-goal to punch the Rams’ ticket to the NFC Championship Game with a 30-27 victory where they’ll play the San Francisco 49ers. 

The gaffe from the Buccaneers’ defense stemmed from a slot blitz — an unnecessarily aggressive call with the Rams backed up on their own 25-yard-line and with overtime looming. It allowed Stafford to loft a bomb down the middle of the field for the NFL’s No. 1 receiver to haul in; the largest reception of his nine-reception, 183-yard, one-touchdown game.

Stafford — a 13-year veteran playing his first-ever NFC Divisional Round game — completed 28-of-38 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns. It was just enough to get by Brady, who went 30-of-54 for 329 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. 

Down 27-13 with 3:56 to go, Brady and the Bucs went 77 yards in just 36 seconds to make it a one-possession game, connecting with Mike Evans on a 55-yard touchdown down the right sideline on a rainbow of a bomb

 With 2:32 remaining and trying to run out the clock, the Rams stuck with the run game — which proved disastrous. Cam Akers was stripped by Ndamukong Suh and the loose ball was recovered by Bucs linebacker Lavonte David on the Rams’ 30-yard-line.

Off the turnover and with 42 seconds left in the game, Leonard Fournette’s seven-yard touchdown on a 4th-&-1 tied the game, overturning the deficit that once stood at 24 points midway through the fourth quarter.

Fournette scored twice in the loss while Evans caught eight passes for 119 and that long score to spark the final leg of the Buccaneers’ comeback.

The Rams came out firing, scoring 10 points on their first two drives of the day while outgaining the Buccaneers 143-22. Following an opening-drive field goal, Los Angeles marched 71 yards on seven plays to set up a seven-yard touchdown to backup tight end Kendall Blanton. 

Ryan Succop ended the Rams’ scoring run with a 45-yard field goal with 32 seconds to go in the first to get the Buccaneers on the board. 

Los Angeles punched right back on the second play of the second quarter. Following a sack of Stafford to set up a 3rd-&-20 from the Rams’ 30-yard-line, the veteran quarterback hit a wide-open Kupp down the right sideline, who made one cut to weave through the Buccaneers defense to make up the remaining 32 yards of a 70-yard score. 

Tampa’s chances kept taking hits — as did their quarterback. Brady was hit up high by Rams linebacker Von Miller early in the third and was so displeased that a penalty wasn’t assessed, he was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for barking at official Shawn Hochuli. It was the first unsportsmanlike penalty assessed to Brady in his career.

Stafford pounded home a quarterback sneak from a yard out with 7:07 to go in the third quarter to put the Rams up 24 to make it a 27-3 game and seemingly put them in the driver’s seat.

But following a Buccaneers field goal, Brady and Co. received a lifeline when cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting stripped Kupp in Rams territory to give Tampa Bay the ball right back. 

After converting a 4th-&-9 to keep the drive alive, Fournette scored the Bucs’ first touchdown of the day — a 1-yard rush — to pull Tampa Bay back within two possessions with 12 seconds left in the third.

Within the first 12 seconds of the fourth quarter, the Rams were punting, further suggesting that the Brady comeback train was gaining. Those sentiments were put on hold when Brady was strip-sacked by Miller to give the Rams possession at the Bucs’ 25-yard-line.

But on the very next play, the snap sailed over an unsuspecting Stafford and rolled 20 yards to the Tampa Bay 45-yard-line before it was scooped up by the Buccaneers. Brady would drive down to the Rams’ 27-yard-line before he was sacked on a 3rd-&-5 to set up a 4th-&-14.

A desperate Bucs side went for it, but Brady’s attempt for Evans fell incomplete — though controversy followed when Evans was hit high after the play by safety Eric Weddle. While an unnecessary roughness penalty was called, it was a dead-ball foul which ensured the Bucs still turned it over on downs. 

The Rams managed to eat up six minutes and drive down to field goal range. But Gay’s 47-yard attempt fell just short to keep the Bucs within two possessions with 6:31 to go.

Still, the Rams forced another turnover on downs after Brady failed to find Cameron Brate on a 4th-&-9 from the Los Angeles 31-yard-line, which seemingly ended the contest. 

But a quick punt from the Rams opened the door for Brady again with 3:56 to go — ushering in total chaos down in Tampa. 

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