Tom Brady and the Buccaneers will not defend their Super Bowl title in 2022.
The Buccaneers lost to the Rams 30-27 in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs despite rallying from a 27-3 deficit in the second half.
Brady and company rallied from 14 points down with 3:56 remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 27 with less than a minute left. However, Matthew Stafford got the Rams into field goal range after recovering the ball to seal the win and give the Rams a chance to play in their second NFC Championship Game under Sean McVay.
Tampa Bay’s comeback momentum was strong, but a lot went wrong for them in their season-ending loss. Here’s a look at what caused the Bucs’ loss and sent them into an offseason of uncertainty.
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Defensive lapses against Cooper Kupp
The Buccaneers have a lot of defensive talent and a lot of experienced players. However, their players didn’t have much experience playing together this season before their matchup with the Rams.
Tampa Bay hadn’t played a game in which its entire starting defense was healthy until Sunday afternoon. They had been losing at least one player among the 11 starters in the previous 18 games, but having their best players available was supposed to be a boon to Tampa Bay.
For the most part, it was a positive for the Bucs. However, there were some key communication and coverage issues within the group as they all worked together for the first time this season. That led to a couple of massive plays for Cooper Kupp.
In the first half, Kupp snagged a 69-yard touchdown after finding himself wide open down the right sideline on a third-and-20. Stafford pounded him in stride easily to score.
Kupp was later involved in the dagger play that sealed the Rams’ victory. He caught a 44-yard pass from Brady after going wide in the middle of the field in a one-on-one matchup with a safety. He perfectly timed Stafford’s pitch and set up the game-winning field goal for Los Angeles.
As strong as the Bucs defense was in the second half, Kupp proved to be the kryptonite for their defense. They couldn’t contain him and allowed him to catch nine passes for 183 yards and the touchdown, including 64 passing yards on the final drive of the game before Matt Gay’s game-winning field goal.
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Offensive problems in the first part
Tampa Bay’s offense looked great during its roaring comeback in the second half. However, his slow start was what required the late push to tie the Rams.
In the first half, the Bucs scored just three points total. They might have had six if it wasn’t for a missed field goal by Ryan Succop, but still, their offense wasn’t moving the ball well. The passing game was not there. Tom Brady had an interception and had been pressured on eight of his 23 rebounds. Neither was the running game, as Tampa Bay ran the ball well on its first possession but never got back into rhythm after that.
As a result, the offense had only 118 yards at halftime and put the team behind the 8-ball as they were trailing by 17 at halftime. Eventually, the Bucs caught on and scored 24 points in the second half, but by then, they were struggling to get back in the game.
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offensive line problems
The number one problem for the Bucs against the Rams was their blocking. His offensive line was a problem against a stalwart Los Angeles front, and as a result, Brady was under pressure throughout the game.
This was not a big surprise. Tampa Bay’s best blocker, right tackle Tristan Wirfs, missed the game with a sprained ankle. Meanwhile, center Ryan Jensen played through an ankle injury while Wirfs’ replacement Josh Wells battled a quad injury that limited him all week in practice.
Because of those injuries, the Rams, who finished the regular season with 50 sacks, third-most in the NFL, were able to attack Brady frequently with Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd. Brady was sacked only three times, but was pressured much more frequently and was forced to throw numerous passes in the first half.
The Rams’ biggest sack came when Floyd hit Brady for a 9-yard loss to force a fourth-and-14.
The Bucs were down 14 at the time and couldn’t settle for a long field goal, so they had to try. They missed, despite a personal foul on Eric Weddle, and the Rams were able to lose almost six minutes off the clock on the next drive after the attempted turnover.
While the Bucs were still able to get back into the game after that play, keeping them from scoring was a crucial part of the Rams’ victory.
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Without Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown
Offensive line absences weren’t the only ones to plague the Bucs on Sunday. They certainly missed Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown during the contest, as Brady struggled to find a better receiving option beyond Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski.
Godwin was ruled out for the season after suffering a torn ACL against the Saints in Week 15. Brown, meanwhile, was released by the Bucs after he left the field following an outburst on the sidelines in Week 16 against the Bucs. Jets. They represented two of the Buccaneers’ top three wide receivers, and with Breshad Perriman and Cyril Grayson also sidelined with injuries, the team was short on the position.
As a result, Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson served as the team’s No. 2 and No. 3 receivers during the contest. They combined for seven receptions and 53 yards. Tampa Bay’s lack of dynamic weaponry, coupled with their poor blocking, forced the team to resort to many screens and volleys to Leonard Fournette late in the game. That generated yards, but the Bucs just weren’t that threatening on the field, except for a late-game 55-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans.
Excluding that big play, Brady averaged just 5.2 yards per attempt. Including him, his GPA was a just decent 6.1. He may have had more playmaking opportunities available with Godwin or Brown.
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The focus will be entirely on Tom Brady’s future going forward. There are rumors that Brady could retire after the season, but the veteran quarterback hasn’t officially announced his intentions.
If Brady hangs up his shoes, the Bucs will focus on trying to find a quarterback to replace Brady and bring a winning roster now to the playoffs. If Brady stays, questions will arise about whether the team can retain Chris Godwin and other core members of his team, including Ryan Jensen, Jason Pierre-Paul, Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette.
The Bucs will also be keeping an eye on the Saints, as Sean Payton could be thinking about retiring. If he leaves, Bruce Arians would be the longest-serving head coach in the NFC South.
Whatever happens, Bucs fans will be disappointed that the team couldn’t do more in the postseason with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers falling in the divisional round as well. But if the core of the team returns in 2022, they will have the opportunity to compete for a title again next season.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.