Bucs fall behind early in St. Louis as playoff dream goes awry

ST. LOUIS -- So much for the playoffs.

That dream is pretty much history for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have lost back-to-back games to fall to 6-8.

The latest was a 31-23 defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night at the Edward Jones Dome. Quarterback Jameis Winston was ineffective through three quarters, when the Bucs needed him most, completing less than half of his pass attempts -- 11 of 23 -- for 125 yards. Workhorse back Doug Martin rushed for 90 yards on 19 carries through three quarters but had a crucial fumble late in the frame.

And when the Buccaneers showed life in the fourth quarter, scoring their first touchdown on a pass from Winston to Luke Stocker, they gave up a long kickoff return to Benny Cunningham that set up a Greg Zuerlein field goal.

What it means: For a supposed NFC playoff contender, the Buccaneers showed little urgency. Just two weeks after looking like a potential wild-card team with a 6-6 record, Tampa Bay has fallen to the fringes of the playoff race. The Bucs also have ended the possibility of finishing with a record above .500.

Game ball: Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans caught nine passes for 157 yards.

What were they thinking? Winston completed three consecutive long passes en route to a touchdown in the fourth quarter. But a holding penalty on the ensuing two-point attempt resulted in a 43-yard extra-point kick that was good. Ali Marpet was the culprit. Then Cunningham ran through everybody on the Bucs during the ensuing kickoff, and the Rams posted another three. More egregious was receiver Austin Seferian-Jenkins' temper tantrum after hauling in a long pass near the end zone. Upset about not scoring, he threw the ball across the end zone. The penalty pushed the Bucs back and ultimately led to them settling for a field goal.

One reason to get excited: Winston looked good in the fourth quarter as Tampa Bay mounted something of a comeback. He completed four consecutive passes on a four-play, 98-yard drive, then drove the Bucs toward what looked like another score -- before Seferian-Jenkins threw his fit. For the game, Winston was 29-for-50 for 363 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.

One reason to panic: Start with a lifeless effort out of the gate, and then add a second consecutive loss.

Ouch: William Gholston knocked down teammate Danny Lansanah in the Rams' backfield during the fourth quarter. Lansanah ultimately walked off the field under his own power and would later return.

Condiment Bowl: The Rams and Bucs wore special single-color uniforms for the game. The Rams wore a mustard-yellow combination of jerseys and pants, while the Bucs wore a ketchup-red combo.