After having won 10 straight, the winning for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had to come to an end at some point, and it did Sunday, in a 34-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium.
As many thought before the game started, a shootout was going to materialize between the two teams, but that really didn't happen until the second quarter, as the two teams spent the first quarter feeling each other out.
But Los Angeles took advantage of a first-quarter knee injury to Buccaneers cornerback Jamel Dean that knocked him out of the game. And from that point, Tampa Bay's battered secondary could not keep up with the talented corps of receivers on the Rams.
Los Angeles scored first early in the second quarter, on a six-yard reception by Rams tight end Tyler Higbee from quarterback Matthew Stafford.
It was almost as if that first score by the Rams offended the Buccaneers' offense, as Tampa Bay made its way downfield on its next possession, chewing up 8:19 in clock. Chris Godwin tied the game on a two-yard run after taking an inside handoff from Tom Brady while in motion. That drive covered 75 yards in 15 plays.
Then the Rams had their turn, again attacking the middle of the Bucs defense, and capitalizing on the early-game injury to Jamel Dean, who did not return, scoring again on a two-yard pass from Stafford to Cooper Kupp, wide open in the left end zone, with 51 seconds left before halftime.
After a pass-interference penalty on Rob Gronkowski set up a second-and-20, Giovanni Bernard scampered down the left side for 32 yards on a screen pass, giving the Bucs a spark with 31 seconds left. A 14-yard completion from Brady to Mike Evans and an eight-yard completion to Scotty Miller sandwiched a Tom Brady fumble that cost the team six yards. Ryan Succop then missed a 55-yard field goal attempt, as the Rams took that 14-7 lead into the half, and the first possession of the second half, which turned out to be important.
On the second play of the third quarter, DeSean Jackson burned his former team on a 75-yard bomb from Stafford to put the Rams up 21-7. And after that score, the shootout was about to begin.
Tom Brady has been in many of these games before, and Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians for all intents and purposes started to abandon the run, letting his quarterback take control of the offense. Brady plunged in from 1 yard at the end of a nine-play 75-yard drive that featured seven passes, to cut the Rams' deficit to seven, 21-14.
The Rams, to their credit, answered right back, as Kupp scored his second TD of the day, a 10-yarder from Stafford. They key play on that seven-play drive that only ate up 2:34 was a 40-yard catch-and-run by Jackson to get the ball to the Bucs' 10.
On the Bucs' next possession, the fans really got into it, goading the Bucs into a false start on 3rd-and-15 after a second-down sack of Brady, and by the time punter Bradley Pinion shanked a 15-yard punt to give the Rams the ball back on the Tampa Bay 37 with 4:24 left in the third quarter, you could start to sense Michael Clayton's dream undefeated Buccaneers season was about to come to an end.
After Matt Gay kicked a 48-yard field goal to put the Rams up 31-14, Brady led the Bucs downfield quickly, but the drive stalled at the Rams seven. Succop converted a 26-yard field goal to cut the deficit back to 14, and the Bucs still had a puncher's chance.
The Bucs needed a stop on defense big time, to show that they could stop this seemingly unstoppable Rams offense. But that was not to come. Not today. Another Gay field goal put the Rams up three scores, 34-17, with 8:14 left. And when the Bucs failed on fourth down on their next possession, the team and their fans could start looking forward to next week.
And in scoring the last touchdown for Tampa Bay, it looked as if Giovanni Bernard took a hard hit to his knee as he flipped into the end zone. One thing the Bucs do not need as the team defends its title is to be hit by the injury bug.
That next week for the Buccaneers is a huge Sunday Night matchup in New England against Brady's former team, the Patriots. Coverage starts on 95.3 WDAE with Countdown to Kickoff starting at 6 p.m., with Tom Krasniqi and Michael Clayton.