Los Angeles, California — In spite of being favorites before the game, the last year’s NFC champions failed to secure a home win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs defeated the Los Angeles Rams in a thrilling game which almost reached a century of total points, with the game ending 55–40 for the visitors. Players presented their general manager with the game ball afterwards. GM Jason Licht is mourning his father’s passing.
When a game goes into such high score numbers, it naturally becomes the question of which defense is going to have a better performance. Perhaps the game-breaking moment occurred when Ndamukong Suh, previously a Ram, picked up Jared Goff’s fumble. Suh ran (the word used loosely) 37 yards in order to score a defensive TD to give the Bucs a 15-point lead. With 1:06 left on the clock, it secured the win against the Rams, with the score remaining intact until the end. Tampa Bay’s counterpart to Goff, Jameis Winston complimented Suh, saying it was quite a feat for him to score a touchdown in such a fashion against his old teammates.
The Bucs went into this game after a disappointing 32–31 loss to the Giants, despite having an 18-point lead at halftime. This Sunday, the West Florida-based team went to the home of the Conference champions and had a storming beginning to the game, with the Rams trailing 21–0 after 22 minutes. Similarly to the last week’s game, the Bucs had another 18-point lead in the fourth, and it started to look like the scenario could repeat itself, much to the Buccaneers fans’ dismay.
The Rams won’t be able to blame their quarterback for the loss. Jared Goff had yet another remarkable performance. He made 45 completed passes which gained 517 yards, matching a league record in that regard. Cooper Kupp caught a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, while their CB Marcus Peters managed to score a defensive touchdown after making an interception of Winston’s pass. Those two actions brought the game to a nervy ending, with the scoreboard at that moment reading 45–40.
However, when Winston entered the field and took the ball, he had an answer ready. Up to that point, Winston had passed for four scores and 385 yards. He initiated a drive which ended with a field goal, establishing a franchise record for the number of points scored during a single game. Admittedly, at that moment, they were more focused on the fact that the field goal gave them some breathing space.
Tampa Bay head coach, Bruce Arians, stated that the win came in a very important psychological moment for the team, as the last week’s loss was hard to take. According to Arians, victories like this help inspire the squad, and the players have started believing in their abilities and their potential to do even better.
GM’s Personal Loss
The spirit in the dressing room after the game wasn’t as high as one would expect after such a desirable result. The players’ thoughts were with Jason Licht. On Saturday night, Licht was in his hotel room, watching college football. During the match, Licht received a phone call which informed him that his father Ron, 80 years old, passed away at a family tailgate party at a Nebraska-Ohio State game. Licht departed immediately to spend the following few days with his family.
The Bucs’ Director of Player Personnel, John Spytek, said that Licht went away almost instantly. Spytek said that when he visited Licht in his room, Licht confided that he had lost his best friend. While still in the dressing room post-match, the team FaceTimed Licht, and coach Arians showed him the game ball the team decided to gift to Licht. Reportedly, Arians said to Licht that the win was for him. Everyone on the team agreed with the move. Simultaneously, everyone was deserving of the win.
First off, Winston had another great game, after suffering a difficult loss in week 3 despite his individual display deserving a win. In the game against the Giants, Winston threw three TPs and fulfilled all the necessary conditions for the last drive to be a celebratory one. He covered enough yards for a field goal, but Matt Gay misskicked a field goal from a 34-yard range.
He was outpassing Goff, a star quarterback and a number one pick who has already cashed in a $100-million paycheck. However, Winston couldn’t relax until the end, especially with Peter’s pick-six in the fourth, with eight minutes left to be played. They feared another comeback could be on the cards, but Gay made amends by scoring a 21-yard field goal for another separation and the running down of the clock. He followed it up with another successful attempt after Suh’s pick-six.
Talking to the press after the match, Winston said that it was a fun experience to play in the Coliseum. Winston said that he felt like being a part of Hollywood, with a night game under L.A. lights, cameras, and spectators watching their every move. He praised his team, saying that they had a great game and needed to continue to play like that.
The fourth touchdown was a beautiful one from Winston. The Rams’ defense doubled on WR Mike Evans all afternoon, which allowed (or forced) Chris Godwin to excel with a dozen catches and 172 yards. Godwin scored two touchdowns along the way.
During the fourth-touchdown drive, Byron Leftwich, the offensive coordinator, expected the Rams to go for an all-out blitz, with Winston telling Evans to prepare himself for a pass. Evans went by safety Eric Weddle and caught a 67-yard pass. Talking about the touchdown, Winston said that he told Evans what his intentions were. In Winston’s words, the Rams doubled Evans for the whole game, and he managed to hurt them when the opportunity arose.
How Defense Fared
The defensive side of Tampa Bay continuously gave Goff the opportunity to bring his team back, which the talented quarterback gratefully accepted. Still, the defense didn’t have a poor night, as they forced four turnovers on the conference champions, including two interceptions by Lavonte David and Jordan Whitehead.
In the dying minutes, Shaquil Barrett departed for a moment from his throne of league-high eight sacks to strip Goff of the ball, with Suh recovering the fumbled football. Suh, who also had his first career interception, brought the game to a close with a defensive touchdown. In fact, out of the 55 total points, the Buccaneers scored 28 off turnovers.
Barrett said that he wasn’t happy with conceding 40 points, which was something a college defense would do. However, he credited the Rams for not giving up and not going down without a fight. After all, the NFC champions went into the match with a 13–3 record.
After Suh’s TD, the Bucs managed to melt the clock down, as Ronald Jones broke a 24-yard run late in the game. Arians claimed that it was a big game psychologically, and those are important for the future of the team. The game could have ended differently, but Arians said that the team stuck together and found a way to win.
After the first four weeks, the Bucs have a record of 2–2 and are tied for second in the NFC South. The game against the Rams in California was the beginning of a five-game away run, with the team not playing in west Florida again until November 10. They will travel 20,400 miles, including a journey to London, where they will face the Panthers on October 13.
Team Effort for Licht
Arians said that in spite, or rather because of the huge win, the team’s thoughts were primarily with Licht and his family. Licht’s father, Ron, was a passionate football fan but could never play the game because his father needed him around the farm to earn enough money to support the family of seven. When Jason was growing up, Ron would never miss a game where his son played, and in a way, he lived through Jason’s achievements as a college football player and an NFL executive.
Winston expressed his fondness of Licht and talked about meeting Ron and the Lichts. Sending his condolences, Winston said that the win must have meant a lot to Jason and that it was for him. Licht was the reason why Arians stepped out of retirement, seeing how Arians was the perfect coach to turn around the failing franchise. As a reminder, the Bucs haven’t the playoffs since 2008. The core of this Bucs’ team, either signed or drafted by Licht, come from Arizona, where Arians was the coach.
Arians said that the players knew Jason well and the loss hurt them as well. He recalled the two of them watching college football when Licht received the call. Arians said that he himself had that call, and he knew how tough it was. Apparently, Licht said to Arians that his father died doing what he loved — watching football with his family in Nebraska. Coincidentally, Suh, who scored the final touchdown, played in Nebraska, while Barrett, who created the fumble, played for a year at Nebraska-Omaha. Licht sent a text after the game, saying that his father would have been proud.