How Kansas City and the Rams progressed through the NFL playoffs

TAMPA, Fla. — Rams kicker Matt Gay sneaked inside the left post as the final four seconds of the game elapsed, giving Los Angeles a 30-27 ...


TAMPA, Fla. — Rams kicker Matt Gay sneaked inside the left post as the final four seconds of the game elapsed, giving Los Angeles a 30-27 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday. to reach the NFC Championship Game, where they will host the San Francisco 49ers, who eliminated the Green Bay Packers on Saturday.

The Rams’ lead, which had grown to 24 points, evaporated late in the game when Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette scored the tying touchdown on the disc preceding the game-winning kick.

But Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, after nearly losing the ball on first down, connected with Cooper Kupp on a 44-yard pass two plays later and then pushed his team to the line of scrimmage to sting the ball and set up Gay’s basket.

Kupp led Rams receivers with nine catches for 183 yards, and Odell Beckham Jr. added 69 yards on six catches.

It was a decisive and quick series to end the game, and the only one that went the way of the Rams. Far too often this season, Stafford, despite his impressive passing numbers and arm strength, has hurt the Rams’ offense with costly turnovers, especially late in the game.

Stafford tied Jaguars rookie Trevor Lawrence for the league lead with 17 interceptions this season, and his interception to end overtime in the Rams’ Week 18 loss to San Francisco gave the 49ers their playoff spot. .

The Rams had traded valuable interim capital for acquire Stafford ahead of this season in hopes he can catalyze a Super Bowl run, but his propensity for turning the ball around followed him to Los Angeles after 12 seasons as a quarterback for the Detroit Lions, where he threw at least 10 interceptions in all but one season and never won a playoff game.

But in a crucial stretch, Stafford found Kupp on a blown cover route. He did not hold the ball and played extra time. He did not return the ball. And he beat quarterback on the other side of the field, Tom Brady, who is much more accustomed to late-game heroics.

Stafford finished the day with 366 yards on 28 of 38 passes and three total touchdowns.

“He definitely delivered great things today,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said when asked if Sunday’s performance was the reason the team signed Stafford. “I’ve always had great confidence in Matthew. It never wavered.

It was Brady who threw the only interception of the game, ending Buccaneers possession late in the first half, and it was Brady who lost his temper under the pressure. During a disastrous first half, he was flagged for the first time in his career for unsportsmanlike conduct after complaining to officials about being punched in the face by Rams linebacker Von Miller in the second quarter.

The flag came amid Brady and the Buccaneers’ most productive drive of the game at this point. Brady had converted second and 17 from the Rams 50-yard line, finding Leonard Fournette for a 19-yard gain, but the drive stalled three plays later. Ryan Succop missed the field goal attempt from 48 yards, leaving the score at 17-3. The Rams threw a field goal and entered halftime with a 20-3 lead.

In an attempt to defend last year’s championship win, Tampa Bay fired all 22 starters from last season’s team, a first in the salary cap era. The Buccaneers re-signed Chris Godwin, one of the biggest free agent targets of the offseason, and also brought back Antonio Brown, whom Brady lobbied the team to sign last season.

Neither player was available for Brady in Sunday’s game as Godwin tore an anterior cruciate ligament during the regular season and Brown was released by the team in December. Another of the team’s most prominent players, defensive back Richard Sherman, was placed on the injured list with an Achilles tendon injury.

Those losses, coupled with the Buccaneers being without All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs, manifested in protection issues in the passing game and offensive inefficiency. Tampa Bay converted just three of 14 third downs.

But Brady has so far in his career been the ultimate playoff advantage, and in the second half it looked like the 44-year-old quarterback known for his late-game exploits could lead another dramatic comeback to the playoffs. playoffs.

The Rams extended their lead to 27-3 on Stafford’s 1-yard touchdown early in the third quarter, and Tampa Bay struggled to respond with a field goal. But Kupp missed the first pass on the next possession, giving the Buccaneers new life and a short field.

From the Rams 30-yard line, Brady orchestrated a seven-play touchdown that was punctuated when Fournette, playing his first game since Week 15 after returning from injured reserve, hit the ball from the line. 1 meter.

The teams traded fumbles on back-to-back plays to start the fourth quarter, with Brady losing the ball after being hit again by Miller and Rams center Brian Allen fumbling for the snap. Clinging to its two possession lead, Los Angeles forced two turnovers from Tampa Bay on downs late in the game.

With less than five minutes remaining, Brady threw a pass to receiver Mike Evans, who was covered one-on-one by Rams star defensive back Jalen Ramsey. Evans completed the pass for 55 yards to cut the lead to 27-20.

Cam Akers fumbled on the Rams’ ensuing possession, giving Brady another short field. He capitalized with another touchdown, punctuated by a run from Fournette to tie the score, 27-27, with 42 seconds left.

But then Stafford took over and ended the season for Brady and the Buccaneers.

Brady finished with 329 yards on 30 of 54 passes, with one interception.

The loss raises questions about what lies ahead for Tampa Bay. In the week leading up to the game, as he has in previous playoffs, Brady fielded questions about his possibility of retiring after this season as his contract runs until the end of the season. 2022. After Sunday’s loss, Brady told reporters he hadn’t “given much thought” about how he would approach this offseason.

Before Sunday afternoon, it might have looked like he would have more time to deal with the prospect. Stafford made sure he didn’t.

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Newsrust - US Top News: How Kansas City and the Rams progressed through the NFL playoffs
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