The Rams had this one—easily. They built a 20–3 lead over the Buccaneers, and had the ball at the Tampa Bay 6-yard line in the waning moments of the first half. They were going to take a 20- or 24-point lead into halftime. OK, sure: They were facing Tom Brady, and he had one particularly famous comeback in recent memory. But they’d dominated the first half. It seemed like their game.
On first and goal, Cam Akers plowed his way to the one-yard line. But as he was being dragged down, the ball slipped out of his grasp. After review, it was ruled a fumble. The Bucs were down 20–3 at half. But no matter. Tom Brady spent a bunch of time looking like this.
So the Rams still had this. That was confirmed early in the third quarter, when a big punt return set the Rams up on their second drive of the second half. Six plays later, Matthew Stafford snuck into the end zone. An extra point later, it was 27–3. Again, it was Tom Brady on the other side. But all the Rams had to do was avoid any more really stupid plays like fumbling on the opponent’s one-yard line on first and goal. The Buccaneers even gave the Rams a break by kicking a 31-yard field goal on the next drive, turning a three-possession game into a three-possession game.
Then a bunch of stuff happened. Cooper Kupp fumbled on the very next offensive play; the Bucs quickly cut their deficit to 27–13 on a Leonard Fournette one-yard touchdown run. OK, maybe that field goal was a good idea. The game went into the fourth quarter, and the Bucs got the ball back. But Von Miller strip-sacked Brady and recovered the fumble. Rams ball in Tampa territory. Fourth quarter. This was looking like a time they could ice the game.
The very next play, Brian Allen snapped it when Stafford wasn’t looking. The ball went back 25 yards. Jason Pierre-Paul picked it up, and Tampa was back in business. Except they weren’t! They turned it over on downs. The Rams drove into Tampa territory. Pro Bowl kicker Matt Gay had a 47-yard field goal attempt to make it a three-score game again.
Well, he missed. He was, somehow, short. (The NBC broadcast reported he hurt himself in warmups.) But, again, it didn’t matter. Tampa turned it over on downs. There was 4:26 left in the game. This one was over.
OK, it wasn’t. The Rams punted. The Bucs went 77 yards in three plays, scoring on a 55-yard pass to Mike Evans. Then Akers fumbled again, making it four lost fumbles on the day for the Rams, and Tampa had a real, real shot. It looked even better when Fournette ran it in on fourth down. An extra point later, we were tied.
In a big comeback, sometimes everything has to go right for the trailing team. The football bounces their way on fumbles, and they score on all their possessions. Tampa did not get that second part. They screwed up multiple times during the comeback. They failed to take advantage of many opportunities to get back in the game. And, yet: They were tied with 42 seconds left.
Maybe the Buccaneers should have taken advantage of more of those opportunities. After a first-down sack, Stafford hit Cooper Kupp for 20 yards. The next play, he hit him for 44.
Gay couldn’t miss a field goal that close, and sure enough, he hit it. The Rams won, 30–27. And, you know what? The Buccaneers had a lot of chances. I am calling it: Tom Brady choked this one away. Sorry, that’s what happened!