<
>

Bucs' defense struggles, offense can't atone for mistakes in 37-32 loss to Rams

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers nearly pulled off a thrilling comeback Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams after an hour-long weather delay, but instead Jameis Winston and the offense came up short, losing 37-32.

The Bucs got the ball back with 1 minute, 42 seconds to go and marched down to the Rams' 15-yard line. On second-and-11, Winston scrambled and fell five yards short of the end zone as Robert Quinn tackled him from behind and the clock ran out. He didn't see Quinn coming.

"That was dumb on my part," Winston said. "I was just trying to bait them, get closer to the end zone. In that moment I've got to give somebody a chance in the end zone." The Rams had eight defenders in the end zone, though. His receivers were covered. He should have tucked the ball and run.

Winston wasn't the only one on that last drive to hesitate. Head coach Dirk Koetter should have called a timeout after Charles Sims' 12-yard catch on second-and-10, which would have given Winston one more shot in the end zone on third down.

"I thought we were a little slow lining up on that next one," Koetter said. "I thought we still had time to check it down again and use it. As it worked out, we were still lining up so I probably should've used it there." They ended the game with one timeout remaining.

On defense, there were some bright spots, followed by huge plays given up. There was a pick-six by Kwon Alexander in the first quarter and a fumble forced by Lavonte David that Chris Conte recovered. But all of the wind was taken out of their sails when kicker Roberto Aguayo missed a 41-yard field goal attempt with 4:46 to go in the third quarter.

On the ensuing drive, the defense gave up multiple explosive plays -- a 19-yard catch by Kenny Britt, a 12-yard catch by Bradley Marquez and a 16-yard run by Todd Gurley, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Gurley that gave the Rams a 24-20 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Then disaster struck. With 11:56 to go in the fourth quarter, from the Rams' 13-yard line, Winston dropped back and was met by Quinn, who stripped the ball from his hands. Ethan Westbrook scooped it up and raced 77 yards to score, making it 31-26 Rams. Then Tavon Austin took a deep pass to the left and turned into a touchdown to make it 37-26 with 4:38 to go.

The offense did score a late touchdown -- a miraculous 7-yard throw off Winston's back foot to a leaping Mike Evans that made it 37-32 after a failed two-point conversion.

Not counting Winston's turnover, the Bucs' defense surrendered 30 points to an offense that had failed to score a single offensive touchdown the first two weeks of the season. Isn't this why they got rid of Lovie Smith in the first place, because his defense was giving up too many big plays?

On a couple of plays, the defense appeared to bully Case Keenum, even without Robert Ayers. Howard Jones and Noah Spence were lightning-quick off the edge paired with Gerald McCoy in the middle on one particular third-down play. But the line couldn't muster a sack, with the only take-down coming from Alexander.

The offense had some big moments with Cameron Brate scoring two touchdowns, filling the void left by Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Evans finished with a career-high 10 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. The Bucs outgained the Rams offensively by a large margin -- 472 to 320 yards.

The Bucs are now 1-2, and face the most difficult part of their schedule -- playing both Super Bowl teams in back-to-back weeks.