After three quarters of near-flawless football that resulted in a sizeable lead, the Los Angeles Rams found themselves in a tied ball game with less than a minute remaining. LA turned the ball over four times and gave Tom Brady too many chances - eventually he was going to take advantage.
Matthew Stafford, QB
While the Rams and Stafford certainly had their fair share of chaotic moments together during the season, the playoff version of Stafford has been excellent. The veteran signal caller followed up his turnover-free wildcard performance by completing 28 of 38 passes (74% completion) for 366 yards, and 3 total touchdowns.
Stafford connected with Kupp on a 70-yard pass in the first half, and then the duo delivered the kill shot at the end of the game to send the Bucs home.
The Rams could have taken a knee and played for overtime. Instead, after going all-in to acquire Stafford from the Detroit Lions, the Rams and Stafford went all-in on winning the game in regulation.
9️⃣ TO 1️⃣0️⃣ TO SET UP THE WIN! pic.twitter.com/1hrjkOa4lQ— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) January 23, 2022
Cooper Kupp, WR
Kupp was running open in the Tampa Bay secondary for most of the game, and his ability to create yardage after the catch proved pivotal for Los Angeles.
The star receiver converted 9 of his 11 targets for 183 yards and a touchdown. Kupp was excellent and deserves a ton of credit for leading his team to victory.
Matt Gay, K
It was mentioned during the broadcast at the start of the game that Matt Gay had issues during pregame warmup, but no specific injury was revealed.
Halfway through the fourth quarter with a 14 point lead, Gay had the opportunity a 47-yard kick to make it a three-score game. The kick was accurate but just fell short, which was unusual for the strong-legged Gay.
A sense of doubt could have set in. The reminder of his failures in Raymond James Stadium as a rookie could have come to the forefront of his mind. Instead, Gay was afforded the opportunity to kick a 30-yard game winning field goal to send his former team packing - and he took care of business.
What a cool ending in Tampa Bay for Rams kicker Matt Gay, who the Bucs drafted with a 5th-round pick in 2019 and cut before the 2020 season. He gets picked up by the Rams last season, is named to the Pro Bowl this season and now kicks a game-winning 30-yard FG to advance.— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) January 23, 2022
Von Miller, OLB
With Bucs RT Tristan Wirfs inactive due to an injury suffered in the wildcard round, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd had a prime opportunity to pressure Tom Brady and affect the game. Miller lived in the backfield pretty much all game and hit Brady as he was throwing multiple times - one hit resulting in a strip sack.
Sure, the Rams gave up a lot in terms of draft capital to acquire Miller, but his presence has been paying significant dividends so far in the playoffs.
Von Miller had 9 QB pressures (led team), 1 sack, 1 FF & 1 fumble recovered, with 2 turnovers forced by pressure, per @NextGenStats.— Mike Giardi (@MikeGiardi) January 24, 2022
- Aaron Donald had 7 QB pressures (T-most in a game this season for Donald w/ Week 16 at MIN), 1 sack, 3 QB hits. Relentless pressure on Brady.
Nick Scott, DB
Nick Scott was drafted by the Rams as a special teams ace, but he’s worked towards becoming a regular contributor on defense. Scott played well in the wildcard round and he continued his strong play against Tampa Bay.
Scott was in coverage often against tight-end Rob Gronkowski, and he recorded two pass deflections and an interception in coverage.
The secondary could easily have been LA’s Achilles heel after losing starting safeties Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp to injury; however, they seem to be in good shape with Scott so far.
Offensive Line & Joe Noteboom
Rams offensive line is bullying the Bucs defensive equivalent - Stafford has all the time in the world and he is killing them.— Andrew Gamble (@andrew_gamble) January 23, 2022
Also Kupp and OBJ are really really good #NFL
A significant reason why Stafford was so sharp was his stellar protection by the Rams offensive line. The Buccaneers have a formidable defensive front featuring the likes of Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, but LA kept them from having much of an impact on the game.
Andrew Whitworth was ruled out during the week, and Joseph Noteboom filled in admirably - recording a 96% pass block win rate on the day.
Joe Noteboom did an exceptional job filling in at LT for Andrew Whitworth and the Rams today: Noteboom recorded a 96% pass block win rate. The average for an LT is 88%. Whitworth's season average was 94%, and he ranked third among qualifying tackles, per ESPN/NFL Next Gen.— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) January 24, 2022
It’s probably worth noting, if the game would have ended after the third quarter I’m not sure there would have been any “losers”. The Bucs were able to hang around because of costly errors and mental lapses at unfortunate times, and the individuals listed below are the ones that committed those errors.
Cam Akers, RB
There was not a lot of room for Cam Akers to run on the ground, as the Vita Vea and the Bucs’ defensive line did a fine job in this aspect of the game. It was important that the Rams still committed to the running game, and it was impressive that Akers could carry the ball 24 times in just his third game back since his Achilles injury. Akers also added 3 receptions for 20 yards - one of those receptions converted a key third down opportunity towards the Bucs end of the field.
But his production as a runner or receiver is not why Akers is on the “losers” list - his two fumbles were incredibly costly for Los Angeles and almost proved insurmountable.
The first fumble came at the goal line. The Rams were looking to extend their lead to four scores; however, Akers put the ball on the ground and Tampa Bay recovered to end LA’s drive. At a minimum, this turnover took three points off the board for the Rams.
The second fumble came with Los Angeles running down the clock after the Buccaneers had just scored to narrow the lead to seven points. It looked as if Akers was going to break away for a first down, which may have marked the end of the game; however, the ball broke loose from his grasp and was recovered by Tampa Bay. Brady and the Bucs tied the game shortly after.
Brian Allen, C
Early in the fourth quarter with the Rams nearing the red zone, center Brian Allen snapped the ball before Stafford was expecting it - resulting in a big turnover for the Buccaneers.
There may have been communication issues with the Rams’ silent count (the stadium seemed loud at times), but regardless this is a severe mental lapse that almost proved too costly.
Jalen Ramsey, DB
It was a quiet day for star corner Jalen Ramsey, which is a bit unusual for him.
With less than 4 minutes remaining in the game and the Rams up by fourteen points, Ramsey was beat deep by Mike Evans for a touchdown - narrowing LA’s lead to a single score.
The Rams put Ramsey on an island to roll coverage to the other side of the field, and it’s fair to question whether this was the right call at the time; however, it’s undeniable that this was a momentum-shifting play for Tampa Bay as they went on the tie the game.