From the second Matthew Stafford threw a 75-yard BOMB to DeSean Jackson on a 3rd and 10 early in the third, there was no looking back. The Rams had led the Bucs 14-7 at the half following a shanked Ryan Succop kick and the Rams would receive the ball to begin the third. Matthew Stafford‘s touchdown to DJAX marked the turning point for the game as the Rams offense didn’t slow down until late in the fourth when they were leading 34-17.
Coming into the game, Tampa Bay was a road favorite after they throttled the Falcons in week two while the Rams were lucky to get out of Indy with a win. This was the Rams first chance to make a statement and Sean McVay and the Rams did just that. Yes, 34-24 seems like a close game but following that DeSean Jackson touchdown, it really wasn’t. The Bucs never took control of the game, and while the McVay/Stafford offense started slow and got hot, the defense made the difference today.
Once again, Matthew Stafford was a STUD. He completed 27/38 passes for four touchdowns and no picks. The offensive line was incredible only allowing one sack deep into the fourth quarter. Early on it felt like the moment was just a little too big for Stafford as he had early miscues to Cooper Kupp (more on him in a second) and had a near pick on the opening drive, but once he settled the offense MOVED.
Kupp had nine catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns and the Bucs increasingly banged-up secondary had little to no answer for Kupp who now has 16 catches 271 yards and 6 touchdowns on the year. Stafford missed DeSean Jackson three times before that fateful 75-yard score and Jackson ended up leading all receivers with three catches, 120 yards, and the touchdown.
Sean McVay had made it a point to involve Jackson in the game and boy did he. McVay also had to be thrilled with how Sony Michel handled himself getting the start in place of the injured Darrell Henderson. Sony had 20 carries for 67 yards, and when he had to, was able to fall forward for some key first downs. He was also a stud in blitz pick-up.
Even more encouraging for the Rams was how well their defense played against arguably one of the best offenses in the league. Yes, Antonio Brown was out on the Covid list, but the Bucs have an embarrassment of riches on offense. That said, the defense did a great job bending but rarely breaking.
They still were giving up short-yardage plays but they gave up very few big plays of consequence. Kenny Young was a stud recording 8 tackles and a sack, Terrell Lewis was all over the field nearly sacking Brady while landing a BIG HIT on Gronk. Jalen Ramsey did an excellent job being involved all over the field recording seven tackles and preventing Tom Brady from beating the defense deep.
That said, the secondary did struggle with Mike Evans winning his matchups against David Long and once again there were plays that saw Taylor Rapp look absolutely lost. Nevertheless, the defense bent but ultimately held together which is something fans were beginning to doubt after the Colts nearly got the best of them. Aaron Donald got his first sack against Brady while also forcing a fumble. Donald once again overcame double teams and uncalled holds to cause a ton of chaos. Leonard Floyd has been struggling with an ankle injury all year but came through with a sack of his own.
The other big question was the special teams, which despite a dumb penalty early in the first quarter, didn’t give up any big plays. Tutu Atwell finally got the nod at punt return and netted nine yards, but it’s the beginning of what’s to come. Matt Gay was perfect hitting all his extra points and making two field goals while the coverage team did a great job tackling. Clearly special team coach Joe DeCamillis clearly felt as ill about that unit’s performance in Indy as fans did because they looked downright competent today.
McVay’s enthusiasm was palpable all game. The plays Stafford made once the game settled down were downright spectacular. Not just the bombs to Jackson or Kupp but the plays to extend drives like a throw in the third to Woods that was a little off-kilter but still managed to find Bobby Trees. He made plays to Tyler Higbee early on including the game’s first touchdown and a tight end screen that seemed effortless. Stafford also did a phenomenal job avoiding the rush and utilized his pocket. The passing game still looks like a work in progress with miscues aplenty early on and even a handful late in the game, but if this is what a work in progress looks like, this team will be downright dangerous down the stretch.
Sure, Tampa won in total yards with 446 to the Rams 406, but Tom Brady only had one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown. The Rams managed to rush for 75 yards over one of the best run defenses in the league and even got Jake Funk some work very early on. What once appeared to be a Rams team that was going to shoot itself in the foot, righted itself quickly and finished the game 10/15 on third down, and won the time of possession (by a hair but still).
McVay also managed to only see one four-yard penalty in the first quarter while Tampa’s 7 penalties for 40 yards told the story of a team that is talented but undisciplined.
Going up 3-0 in the NFC West was KEY, especially with Arizona making short work of Jacksonville making their matchup next week a possible game for first in the division. This win today might also be a big deal late in the season as playoff seedings, and more importantly, home-field advantage is decided.
SoFi was ROCKING all day and the Rams managed to make a statement win with the stars out in force. The jokes about LA not having any fans is starting to look as lazy as a rug on valium because with each statement win there will be fewer and fewer visiting jerseys at SoFi stadium. Sean McVay once again reminded everyone that he’s one of the best coaches in the game and while the story will likely be about Tampa being shorthanded this round, the Rams took full advantage of their matchups and gave the defending champs their first loss.
The Rams might have lost linebacker Justin Hollins to a pec injury and tight end Tyler Higbee was shaken up, but overall the Rams got through the game relatively healthy which is huge. Sean McVay can now say that his 3-0 Rams are who the rest of the league needs to measure itself against and not the other way around for the first time in lord knows how long, and for Rams fans, that might be a new feeling, but it feels GOOD. Onto Arizona!