Rams edge Bucs on late field goal to reach NFC title game
Matt Gay converted a 30-yard field goal Sunday as time expired, giving the Los Angeles Rams a 30-27 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC divisional playoffs in Tampa, Fla.
The Rams advance to the conference title game against the rival San Francisco 49ers next Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake. The 49ers have beaten the Rams six straight times.
WHAT A MOMENT. pic.twitter.com/FGK39fm84p
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) January 23, 2022
A win in the NFC final would enable Los Angeles to become the second straight franchise to play a home game in the Super Bowl.
Gay’s game-winning kick Sunday was set up when Matthew Stafford, who completed 28 of 38 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns, found Cooper Kupp for a 44-yard gain to the Buccaneers’ 12-yard line. The play capped a nine-catch, 183-yard day for Kupp.
“Steal somebody’s soul,” Stafford said of leading the game-winning drive. “You get to reach in there and take it from them. That’s a whole lot of fun.”
Tampa Bay tied the game with 42 seconds left when Leonard Fournette had a 9-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1, completing the Bucs’ comeback from a 24-point third-quarter deficit. But they left just enough time for Los Angeles to beat them.
Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady led a frantic second-half comeback, hitting 30 of 54 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown for the game, with an interception. Mike Evans caught eight passes for 119 yards and a 55-yard score that pulled the Bucs within 27-20 with 3:20 to play.
Ultimately, Tampa Bay couldn’t overcome its sluggish start and some key injuries. The Bucs played without Pro Bowl right tackle Tristan Wirfs (ankle), who missed a game for the first time in his two NFL seasons.
“Things happen. People get hurt,” Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David said of the Bucs’ season. “We had some mishaps here and there, guys bump heads. We had a lot of turmoil going on in our organization. Guys getting injured, guys who were a huge part of our success.
“It was definitely a tough season.”
Los Angeles controlled the first half behind big pass plays and a tough, physical defense that harassed Brady continually. It initiated scoring just under seven minutes into the game on a 26-yard field goal by Gay.
Stafford made it 10-0 on the Rams’ next drive, rolling left and flipping a 7-yard touchdown pass across his body to backup tight end Kendall Blanton. Tampa Bay got on the board with 32 seconds left in the first quarter on Ryan Succop’s 45-yard field goal.
But Los Angeles made it 17-3 with 14:17 left in the second quarter when Stafford turned third-and-20 into a 70-yard scoring strike to Kupp. Another field goal from Gay, a 40-yarder with 2:19 remaining in the half, gave the Rams a 20-3 cushion at the break.
Stafford’s 1-yard sneak with 7:11 left in the third quarter increased the margin to a seemingly insurmountable 27-3. However, the Bucs started their rally with a 31-yard field goal by Succop with 3:06 left, then turned one of four lost fumbles by Los Angeles into Fournette’s 1-yard touchdown run with 12 seconds remaining in the period.
“We certainly worked hard,” Brady said. “And every team at this point does.”