Rams vs. Buccaneers score, takeaways: Matthew Stafford outduels Tom Brady as Los Angeles stays undefeated
A full rundown of Tampa Bay's first loss of the 2021 campaign
Sunday's clash between the Buccaneers and Rams figured to be one of, if not the most explosive, of the week. That proved correct, but more for one side than the other. While Tom Brady finished his first trip to Los Angeles with gaudy numbers, eclipsing 400 yards through the air and several times tying the game early on, it was Matthew Stafford and the Rams who owned the anticipated matchup and a potential NFC Championship preview. With Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and an emergent DeSean Jackson finding space against Tampa Bay's secondary, L.A. had little trouble staying undefeated with a 34-24 victory at home.
Here are some immediate takeaways from Sunday's big win for the Rams, who handed the Bucs their first loss of the year:
Why the Rams won
The Stafford-Sean McVay connection is presently one of the most lethal in the league, and that remained the case against a Bucs defense that's proven vulnerable to the pass this year. Stafford was off the mark a bit early, but once he got in stride, he never looked back, finding Kupp on countless key downs and launching a pair of beautiful deep balls to the still-electric Jackson. Van Jefferson and Tyler Higbee also contributed acrobatic and timely catches to round out one of the NFL's most dangerous offenses, even without much of a run game. The defense, meanwhile, stepped up regularly against Tampa Bay's one-dimensional attack, with Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and Taylor Rapp among those chipping in to get after Brady or disconnect his rhythm with guys like Rob Gronkowski.
Why the Buccaneers lost
For one, they weren't their normal explosive selves with the ball in their hands. While L.A. enjoyed flashy bombs to an ex-Buc in Jackson, Brady and Co. were left to chip away slowly at the Rams defense, with Giovani Bernard among the most reliable targets for TB12 on a day in which Antonio Brown was absent and Bruce Arians' club ran the ball just 13 times, with one of those carries going to Chris Godwin. On "D," things were arguably even worse, though perhaps more predictable considering how Tampa Bay was occasionally gashed in the first two weeks. Stafford consistently had his way passing the ball against the Bucs' secondary, and only William Gholston actually got to Stafford in the pocket.
On 3rd-and-10 early in the second half, with the Rams up seven, the Buccaneers had a chance to get their defense off the field and give Brady a shot at knotting the ball game once again. Instead, Jackson blazed past the entire Tampa Bay secondary, and Stafford found him easily for a 75-yard score, putting the Rams up 21-7 and putting all the momentum in the home team's favor.
Play of the game
Give it to DeSean, who looked more like 24 than 34 on his few but dangerous deep shots, including the 75-yarder that gave him his first TD as a Ram:
The Rams (3-0) will stay at home in Week 4 with a chance to take care of business against a divisional opponent, as they host the similarly unbeaten Cardinals (3-0) on Oct. 3. The Buccaneers (2-1), meanwhile, will stay on the road for a "Sunday Night Football" showdown with Brady's old team, the Patriots (1-2).
That's it for the third quarter. Only 15 minutes left. The Rams have a clear advantage here, up two scores at home on a day they've had their way through the air, but never say never when it comes to Tom Brady, who's looked more in sync the last few series. With zero ground game working right now, however, and time of the essence, it's going to be a little tougher for Tampa Bay to move the chains as a one-dimensional target.
A real dagger to go all that way and come away with only three, but at least the Bucs have cut it to two scores with a quarter to go. Brady was on target that series. Now, let's see if Tampa Bay's defense can keep things in front of them.
Taylor Rapp saves the Rams defense from surrendering a TD, as Brady hits Tyler Johnson on a perfect bullet across the middle. Two plays later, Brady stands in the pocket in the face of some pressure and whips one to Mike Evans for another first. One play later, it's Johnson again, wide open on a nice floater for 31 yards and deep into Rams territory.
Sean McVay has reason to be pumped. The field goal puts L.A. up 31-14 with just over a quarter to play. Tom Brady has been efficient, but the Bucs have seen too many drives stall without a big play. Their run game has also been nonexistent. Not much more time to waste if they wanna successfully play catch-up on the road here.