Of all the comebacks Tom Brady has had in his illustrious career, this one would have ranked in the top five. But Matthew Stafford had a comeback in him, as well, as his 44-yard completion to Cooper Kupp put the Los Angeles Rams in field-goal range, and former Buccaneer Matt Gay ended the Buccaneers season with a 26-yard field goal at the final gun, 30-27, Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
It was going to be a tough task for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to defeat the Rams on Sunday, and when Matthew Stafford ran the ball in from a yard to put the Rams up 27-3 with 7:07 left in the third, the task to even attempt a comeback proved too much ... or did it?
A wild fourth quarter marked by a host of turnovers and missed opportunities gave the Buccaneers one last shot down 27-20 with under two minutes to go after a Cam Akers fumble as the Rams attempted to close out the game. And this time, the Bucs took advantage of that turnover, tying the game on an 8-yard TD run by Leonard Fournette with 42 seconds left.
But Stafford and Kupp's heroics helped them advance.
The Rams now have an opportunity to "host" two consecutive games, as the San Francisco 49ers wait for the Rams to return west for next Sunday's NFC Championship game at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. Should the Rams win that game, they will become the second team to "host" a Super Bowl, following Tampa Bay's accomplishment last season.
The loss of Tristan Wirfs proved huge for the Buccaneers, as his replacement, Josh Wells, had a hard time with the stout LA defensive front. Nick Leverett replaced an injured Wells in the third quarter. And the Buccaneers failed to capitalize on LA turnovers that would have made the game closer.
The Buccaneers got a shot of life after Sean Murphy-Bunting recovered a Cooper Kupp fumble late in the third, converting a 4th down deep in Ram territory, and coming through with a Leonard Fournette 1-yard scoring run to make it 27-13 very late in the third. Tampa Bay then got a quick three-and-out on defense.
Then back-to-back turnovers, a fumble by Tom Brady that quieted the crowd, then a wild snap over the head of Stafford, recovered by the Bucs, got the fans back into it.
But on a fourth down pass from Brady to Mike Evans that fell incomplete, officials ruled that a late hit by Rams' safety Eric Weddle came after the pass fell dead, and the penalty yardage did not reach the line to gain for a first down, so the Rams got the ball back on downs. On their next drive, the Rams were able to milk the clock with some big Cam Akers run to get into field goal range for Matt Gay, the former Bucs' kicker, who (ask me if you've seen this before missed from 47 yards, and the Bucs still had life with 6:31 to go.
But after moving into Rams' territory, the Bucs could not convert on a 4th-and-9 with 4:26 to go, but still holding three times out, which they used to hold the Rams, getting the ball back at their 21 with 3:56 left.
And the Bucs did not say die yet, cutting the Rams' lead to seven on a 55-yard hookup from Brady to Mike Evans with 3:20, but no timeouts.
The Rams showed their firepower on their first drive, as Stafford carved up the Bucs' secondary, going 5-for-7 for 81 yards, getting Odell Beckham Jr. involved early, but the drive stalled and resulted in a 26-yard field goal by Gay for the game's first points.
Conversely, Tampa Bay's first two possessions resulted in Bradley Pinion punts, as Tom Brady went 0-for-4 passing. Not exactly the start the Buccaneers wanted.
On Los Angeles' next possession, their drive was aided by a pass-interference call on Jamel Dean, and a very questionable unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Ndamukong Suh after he loudly claimed Stafford kicked him after a pressure on a naked bootleg. Suh was flagged for taunting Stafford after the play; the Rams scored three plays later on a 7-yard reception by backup tight end Kendall Blanton.
The Bucs offense came to life a little on their next drive, getting three points on a 45-yard field goal by Ryan Succop for their first points. They key play, a 29-yard pass play from Brady to Rob Gronkowski that put the Bucs in field goal range.
But the Rams continued their onslaught after kickoff specialist Bradley Pinion placed the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. After a sack of Stafford by Vita Vea made it 3rd and 20, Kupp was wide open down the right sideline and raced past the Bucs' defense for a 70-yard touchdown, making the score 17-3.
Tampa Bay then went three-and-out on their next possession, and it looked as if Los Angeles was about the wrest full control of the game. But after a three-and-out, the Bucs got the ball back and started a methodical drive down the field that was eventually stalled by Tom Brady's first-ever unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for complaining to referees about a hit to the head by LA's Von Miller. That penalty knocked the Bucs into a longer field-goal attempt, which Succop missed from 48.
The Rams added a field goal before the half, and also had a chance after Tom Brady tossed an interception in Buccaneer territory to LA's Rick Scott, but with 18 seconds left in the half, a review of a disputed fumble at the Bucs' 1 by Cam Akers went Tampa Bay's way.
Cover Photo: Getty Images