By Nick Shook
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The Rams (2-1) staved off multiple comeback attempts on the part of the Buccaneers (1-2), escaping Tampa Bay with a 37-32 victory that included an hour-long weather delay at the two minute warning in the fourth quarter. Here’s what we learned:
1. It was a knock-down, drag-out contest you’d typically see between two league heavyweights, but instead it was two middling squads with uncertain paths. Which Buccaneers team would we get this week: the 31-21 winners in Week 1, or the squad decimated by turnovers and a swarming Cardinals defense in Week 2? Well, it was neither, sort of. Both teams made mistakes that each seemed to follow with another. They held serve on positive plays and errors, making for an entertaining contest.
2. The game’s highlights opened with each team giving the other a gift: the Rams‘ Case Keenum tossed one directly to Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander, who had nothing but green in front of him for a pick-six; then Charles Sims dropped a pass (thanks to a hit from Trumaine Johnson) that landed in Los Angeles arms, setting the Rams up with great field position that ended in a Todd Gurley touchdown. It was very much call and response of both teams. Anything you can lose, we can lose better.
3. Two unheralded Jameis Winston targets deserve our attention. A few days after the depth chart suddenly opened up due to the release of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, tight end Cameron Brate caught five passes for 46 yards and two touchdowns, including an impressive, one-handed catch just outside the goal line for six. Brate’s role will likely only increase as he has just blocking tight end Luke Stocker to battle for catches. And when talking about an increased role, the eight catches and 94 yards racked up by Adam Humphries cannot go overlooked. Humphries frequently caught short passes and pinballed off of defenders, finding a way to stay on his feet to gain additional yards. As the game went on, it was clear Winston felt more and more comfortable turning to the 5-foot-11, second-year pro.
4. The Rams went scoreless in Week 1, then failed to find the end zone in Week 2. That’s the sign of an inept offense, right? Wrong in Week 3. Case Keenum found Brian Quick on a 44-yard touchdown completion to open the scoring, then promptly tossed the interception to Alexander. Things did get better, though, when on third down late in the fourth, Keenum faced an all-out blitz and heaved a pass off his back foot to Tavon Austin, matched up with a safety in man coverage. Austin caught the pass and easily broke the feeble tackle attempt of the out-of-position Keith Tandy before coasting for a 43-yard score.
5. The Fat Guy Touchdown of the Week award goes to Ethan Westbrooks, who was the beneficiary of Robert Quinn‘s strip sack on Winston, which looked to put the game on ice for L.A. early in the fourth. Westbrooks picked up the loose ball on third-and-6 deep in his team’s own territory and, with a convoy of blockers, rumbled 77 yards down the sidelines for the glorious defensive lineman score, which is never not enjoyable.
6. Winston and Co. had one last shot to go for the win but couldn’t finish the job. Tampa Bay got the ball at its own 44 and quickly moved down to the Rams‘ 15, but with two timeouts in his pocket, head coach Dirk Koetter froze, using neither, burning 23 seconds between plays and costing Tampa Bay two or three more plays. The effects were instantly noticeable when the next two plays were inaccurate heaves to the end zone, but the failure culminated on the final down, when Winston rolled left, far past the line of scrimmage, pump faked and mentally stalled, never committing to the scramble and getting taken down from behind in a light jog at the Rams‘ 5 as time expired.
7. Referee Ed Hochuli suspended the game in a weather delay at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay with 2:00 left to play in the fourth quarter, with the Rams clinging to a 37-32 lead deep in their own territory. The teams retreated to their locker rooms as lightning struck in the vicinity of the stadium, repeatedly resetting the time needed before they could return to the field. After more than an hour delay, the two squads resumed play at 8:28 p.m. ET. It was a boon for a Rams defense that looked gassed on its previous series and definitely benefited from the rest, even if they came close to heartbreaking defeat.