Tom Brady drives the Bucs to victory in their final possession, and the Rams can do nothing to stop him.
TAMPA, Fla. —
This is becoming a farce.
And not just the Rams’ final desperate play Sunday, a series of passes, laterals and clownish moves designed to perhaps generate another miracle against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.
No, an offense and play-caller once feared around the NFL are beyond stagnant. Touchdowns are rarities, the rushing attack no threat. Even 10 yards for a game-clinching first down is apparently too much to ask.
Coach Sean McVay and the defending Super Bowl champion Rams are clearly in the throes of a Super Bowl hangover.
They also are at a crossroads.
After a 16-13 loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday — another Tom Brady-engineered beauty for anyone not associated with the Rams — Los Angeles’ record dropped to 3-5.
“It’s a sick feeling,” McVay said.
That comment harked to McVay circa February 2019 and the moments after Brady led the New England Patriots to victory over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
McVay and the Rams rebounded. They rebuilt themselves to win Super Bowl LVI. Along the way, they beat Brady and the Buccaneers three times in the previous two seasons.
But with nine games remaining, this offense is not close to competent let alone playoff-caliber.
In January, during an NFC divisional-round playoff game against the Buccaneers, quarterback Matthew Stafford needed only 42 seconds to drive the Rams 75 yards for a game-winning field goal.
Stafford said afterward that he would have loved to have been ahead by three touchdowns and taking a knee, “but it’s a whole lot more fun when you got to make a play like that to win the game and just steal somebody’s soul.”
On Sunday, after the defense preserved a 13-9 lead by stopping Brady and the Buccaneers with a goal-line stand with less than two minutes left, all Stafford and the offense needed to do was get a first down to run out the clock.
Instead, the Rams were forced to punt, giving Brady the ball with 44 seconds remaining.
Brady used 35 seconds to go 60 yards, capping a six-play drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cade Otton with nine seconds left and sucking the soul out of the Rams.
“That’s a lot to ask, to have them do that twice there late in the game,” Stafford said of the defense. “And we definitely had our opportunity, and we didn’t capitalize.”
It was not the first time the offense faltered — in the game or this season.
“We shouldn’t even have been out there,” cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. “You can say it like it is — the game should have been over.”
But the defense cannot do it alone.
“We have so many games where the defense will get a stop and then we’ll go to the sideline and they’ll be like: ‘Ya’ll stay locked in. Ya’ll stay locked in. You’re going to have to go back out there again,’ ” Ramsey said.
“It shouldn’t be like that. We got to have some dogs who are going to be like, ‘We going to close this mother … out.’”
The defense gave the offense multiple opportunities to control the game.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner blocked a field-goal try. Defensive lineman Aaron Donald sacked Brady on fourth down and, on the Buccaneers’ next possession, batted away a third-down pass to force a punt.
But the defense could not stop Brady on the final drive.
That should come as no surprise. The 45-year-old Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl champion with a long resume of late-game heroics, briefly had retired after last season’s playoff loss to the Rams.
The Rams no doubt wish he had stuck to that and not come back for a 23rd season.
“You just can’t keep giving Tom chances,” Wagner said. “He’s shown over and over again, you keep giving him chances he’s going to hurt you.”
The Rams’ locker room, even in the aftermath of losses this season, has not been a somber place. But after blowing an opportunity to perhaps turn around their season, players quietly dressed and dispersed.
“I’m kind of in shock,” Donald said.
McVay also appeared shell-shocked.
“We can’t continue to go on like this,” he said. “What that looks like, I don’t necessarily have the exact answers right now.”
But McVay indicated change was afoot.
“We got to really figure out a lot of different things to be able to do, whether it’s different players, whether it’s different schemes, different things like that,” he said. “But this is not good enough and I have to do better too.
“I’m a huge part of this, and that’s just the reality of where we’re at right now.”
Wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who set up last season’s playoff victory over the Buccaneers with a long pass reception, scored the Rams’ only touchdown Sunday after catching a midrange pass and turning it into a 69-yard touchdown.
Kupp also carried the ball on a jet sweep on the Rams’ final possession. Rather than risking getting knocked out of bounds and stopping the clock, he went to the turf after a five-yard gain. Two plays later, the Rams punted, giving Brady one more chance.
Kupp agreed that change was in order.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again,” he said, adding, “It’s not a shortage of effort, but at some point, how much more effort can you give?
“You’ve got to change something.”