The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ title defense came to an abrupt end as they absorbed a 30-27 home loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Divisional Round.
Tom Brady tried to lead his squad’s comeback attempt from down 27-3 in the third quarter, thanks in part to a load of Rams gaffes, and the Buccaneers even tied the game up late. But Tampa Bay’s defense let Brady down after coming up big throughout the comeback, allowing Matthew Stafford to hook up with Cooper Kupp on two huge pass plays to put Los Angeles in position to kick the game-winning field goal as time expired.
This game was certainly a disappointing way for Bruce Arians’ squad to finish the season after many thought they would repeat as Super Bowl champions. Now that the season is over, the Buccaneers will look forward to the offseason as their star QB weighs a decision on his future.
With all that said, here are three takeaways from the Buccaneers’ Divisional Round loss to the Rams.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Playoff Takeaways vs. Rams
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3. A slow start buried the Buccaneers in a deep hole early on
The Rams were simply the better team in all facets of the game as they ended the first half with a huge 20-3 lead over the Buccaneers. The early touchdowns for tight end Kendall Blanton and wide receiver Cooper Kupp allowed Los Angeles to build a comfortable margin.
Meanwhile, Brady and the normally high-powered Buccaneers offense couldn’t get anything going. Brady was under pressure all game and wasn’t productive until desperation mode set in. While Brady powered his team back into the mix of things (again, with a lot of help), the comeback couldn’t be completed.
Surely enough, the result would’ve been different if Tampa Bay managed to keep up with the offensive momentum of the visiting squad right from the get-go. Having a slow start against a stacked team like the Rams in a playoff game is a recipe for disaster, and the Buccaneers would be wise to learn from this mistake moving forward.
2. Absences of key players hurt Tampa Bay’s chances
Though the Buccaneers had their own shortcomings in the loss, it’s also important to mention that the team was without a few key players against the Rams. Star receiver Chris Godwin continues to be sidelined due to the torn ACL sustained in Week 15 against the New Orleans Saints, and Antonio Brown’s departure also played a factor.
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All-Pro offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs missed this contest after suffering an ankle injury in their previous game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The sophomore would’ve provided better pass protection for Brady and helped fend off the stifling defense of Aaron Donald and Von Miller, who made life difficult for the future Hall of Fame quarterback all game.
Moreover, running back Ronald Jones and wide receiver Breshad Perriman didn’t get to suit up as well due to their own injuries. While Tampa Bay still had enough talent on the field to win this game, these absences can’t be discounted when considering the outcome.
1. The lapses of the defensive unit allowed the Rams to escape with the victory
The Buccaneers had no answers for Matthew Stafford outside of a few stretches. Stafford completed 28 out of 38 passes for 368 yards and two scores with zero interceptions and only two sacks taken. The Rams quarterback also posted a rushing touchdown.
Aside from not containing the opposing QB, the Buccaneers also had a huge letdown in the final seconds as they implemented an all-out blitz. Stafford took advantage of the situation and located Kupp, who was running open down the field.
The big completion put Rams kicker Matt Gay in line for a 30-yard game-winning field goal attempt, which allowed them to escape with the narrow win. Without a doubt, this debacle on that last play cost Tampa Bay.
After their disappointing performance, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and his unit have a ton of work to do as they aim to prevent these defensive lapses from happening again in the future.