Rams kicker Matt Gay snuck inside the left post as the game’s remaining four seconds elapsed, giving Los Angeles a 30-27 win on Sunday to reach the NFC Championship Game .
The Rams’ lead, which had grown to 24 points, evaporated late in the game as Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette scored the tying touchdown on the previous drive.
But Matthew Stafford connected with Cooper Kupp on a 44-yard pass, then hustled his team down to stomp the ball to set up Gay’s game-winning kick.
The Rams, on paper, looked like the better team going into the game. They had an offense loaded to receive weapons and an experienced quarterback leading the offense in Stafford.
They had a defense with one of the best football players in Aaron Donald. And they had suffered far fewer injuries than Tampa Bay.
But the Buccaneers had the ultimate advantage: 44-year-old Tom Brady, who had played in more playoff games than most players on the remaining playoff teams and is only a few years away from leading his former team, the New England Patriots, coming off a 28-3 halftime deficit against Atlanta to win the Super Bowl.
Tampa Bay’s comeback attempt followed a game marked by an overall stagnant offense and defensive errors, however. And though it looked like Brady could lead another dramatic comeback in the playoffs, the Rams, led by Stafford and their defense, held firm with the field goal. They will face the San Francisco 49ers, who defeated the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
The Rams never trailed, but Los Angeles gave the Buccaneers plenty of opportunities to cut their lead.
With less than five minutes left in the game, Brady threw a pass to receiver Mike Evans, who was one-on-one against star defensive back Jalen Ramsey, and Evans completed the pass for 55 yards. That made it a 7 point game.
In the third quarter, Tampa Bay picked up its second fumble of the game — it had four fumbles in total — and turned the takeaway to 7 points. Fournette, who played his first game after returning from injured reserve, kicked the ball in from the 1-yard line.
It cut the Rams’ lead to 14 and energized the home fans at Raymond James Stadium, who had fallen silent as their side struggled for most of three quarters.
Clinging to its two possession lead, Los Angeles forced two turnovers of Tampa Bay on late downs to clinch their spot in the conference championship game.
It was far from a perfect game for both teams. They combined for six turnovers in the game.
The Rams faced little resistance from the Tampa Bay defense early on and scored on three of their first four possessions.
Stafford, who had had a topsy-turvy season featuring 41 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, looked comfortable early on.
He had nearly 200 passing yards before the end of the first quarter. He finished with 366 yards and two touchdowns.
On the Rams’ first touchdown, the Buccaneers gave them 15 yards on a challenging penalty on Ndamukong Suh, Stafford hit unlikely target Kendall Blanton – he hadn’t had a touchdown all season – to give the Rams a 10- 3 lead.
Los Angeles scored on its next possession after blown coverage by the Buccaneers secondary, which struggled to cover against the Rams when the teams met in Week 3 of the regular season.
The misstep allowed receiver Cooper Kupp, who led the league in all major receiving categories in the regular season, to 70 yards.
The Buccaneers were without All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs, who was inactive with an ankle injury, and it showed Tampa Bay was struggling with pass protection for much of the game.
Brady was sacked 3 times in the game.