On September 26th the Los Angeles Rams were undefeated with a 2-0 record and set to play their second home game after beating the Indianapolis Colts on the road. The Rams had won their first two but the lingering question of if Matthew Stafford could lead this team to victories in the big ones was about to be answered. In Week 3 of the 2021 season, the Rams would meet the also undefeated 2-0 defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
WEEK 3: LOS ANGELES RAMS VS TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The early season preview to the divisional playoff game started like an early season game. Sean McVay holds all of his starters out of the preseason and so this would mark the equivalent to the third preseason game for a more traditional group.
First, Matthew Stafford missed on a deep throw to DeSean Jackson. Then Cooper Kupp missed by letting one bounce off his hands over the middle but luckily that potential interception was also missed by Jamel Dean. Tom Brady missed when aiming for an open Rob Gronkowski 20 yards down the field. It wasn’t till the last drive of the first quarter that Rams would start cooking.
On the last drive of the first quarter Stafford hit Higbee, Kupp, Jefferson, and Robert Woods on short routes to move the Rams into the red zone. McVay had Kupp line up in the backfield with a shotgun formation just as he did to score a touchdown the previous week. This time, Kupp motioned left away from Higbee who was split wide right. On the snap the offense revealed a screen play to Higbee which he scored on by pushing his way in to put the Rams up 7-0 at the start of the second quarter.
It was Brady’s turn to heat up next. With a series of short and intermediate passes to Chris Godwin, Gronkowski, and Mike Evans, Brady had the Bus in scoring range at the three yard line. There, Godwin motioned from the left and took a jet sweep which he cut up and into the end zone for a tying score.
Cue the Stafford to Kupp takeover. On the next drive Stafford executed an excellent 75 yard drive by hitting Kupp, Higbee and Jefferson on the way down the field and then hit Kupp for a second time, this time for 22 yards to put them inside the five yard line. On the next play, Kupp lined up on the inside of a tight bunch formation to the left and swung out on a rub combination under Woods and Jefferson to get open for a perfect pass from Stafford for the score.
The second half started with the Rams in possession of the ball and a 14-7 lead. On the third snap of the half, DeSean Jackson broke off a technically impressive go route that had the high safety fooled into breaking on an in route. Part of the illusion was also due to Stafford setting up his eyes and hips toward the center of the field before launching the ball over everyone’s head for a 75 yard touchdown.
Brady would answer again. This time driving down the field by hitting three different receivers for four completions over 10 yards, Evans for a 20 yarder, Gronkowski for 15, Evans again for 11, and finally Cameron Brate for 17 yards to land inside the five yard line. Brady punched that one in himself with a QB sneak.
Before the Bucs would score again, the Rams extended their lead to 31-14, by adding another strike to Kupp at the front corner of the end zone set up by a 40 yard chunk gain by Jackson and then a Matt Gay field goal. The Bucs could only add a field goal to make it 31-17 to start the final period.
While the Rams dominated this game from start to finish, the game would conclude with a late touchdown by the Bucs and field goal from the Rams to make the final score 34-24 Rams.
The Rams would start their championship season 3-0. Stafford and Kupp were showing the world the starting pace of what would become one of the greatest seasons of any receiver in NFL history. In this game, Stafford had 27 completions, for 343 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions. It would be one of two four-touchdown games for Stafford on the season and the only game in which he threw four touchdowns without an interception. Kupp had nine catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Well before the addition of Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr, the Rams relied on Kupp and a defense that only allowed 35 yards rushing all day. It was a preview of all that was to come in the postseason as the eventual world champions took down the defending champions in convincing fashion and would do it again on the road in the divisional round of the playoffs to leave no doubt that the crown was being taken.