INGLEWOOD — Sean McVay’s excitement over the big-play potential the Los Angeles Rams have with Matthew Stafford finally got the best of him Sunday.
The Rams had a 14-7 lead against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early in the third quarter when they faced third-and-10 at the LA 25. McVay dialed up the perfect play that would be the defining moment in the Rams’ 34-24 victory over the defending Super Bowl champions.
McVay called for a pass to DeSean Jackson on a go route. Jackson easily ran by cornerback Carlton Davis III, caught it at the Buccaneers 30 and then zig-zagged his way for the final 10 yards and into the tunnel. He was eventually greeted by the exuberant Rams coach, who ran down the sideline to celebrate his team going up by two touchdowns.
“I think my hamstrings are already sore. I probably pulled them both,” McVay said jokingly. “I was being in the moment and having fun, enjoying watching these guys do their thing and there was a lot of reasons to be excited for our team today.”
Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said Jackson got wide open due to totally busted coverage and lack of communication in the secondary.
Stafford, who said he wanted to come to Los Angeles to play in big games, passed for 343 yards and four touchdowns as he outdueled Tom Brady and the Buccaneers (2-1), who had their 10-game regular season and playoff winning streak snapped.
“We’re up in his face one time, he finds a guy wide open down the field and gets it to him. Other guys, they see him but they can’t get it to ‘em. He gets it to them, so he’s a special player,” Arians said of Stafford.
The Rams are 3-0 for the third time in McVay’s five seasons. The Super Bowl, which they reached in the 2018 season, will be played in their palatial Hollywood Park home.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald was asked if he thought the Rams were one of the favorites to get to there: “for sure”.
“Everybody’s always having fun together. And last time we had a team like that we went to the Super Bowl,” said Donald, who had three tackles and got his first career sack against Brady.
Stafford was off-target on five of his first six attempts before getting in a groove as the Rams scored on their next six drives.
“I think Sean does a great job of giving us a game plan that really keeps the defense on their toes,” said Stafford, who completed 27 of 38 passes. “I mean, we threw the ball underneath today, we threw screens, we threw it over the top, we ran the ball, we play- actioned, we did a little bit of everything. So when he’s got us going like that, you know, it’s fun to go out there and execute them.”
Brady, who completed 41 of 55 passes for 432 yards and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing), joined Drew Brees as the only quarterbacks to throw for more than 80,000 yards.
Mike Evans finished with eight receptions for 106 yards for the Bucs (2-1).
“We got off to a slow start, so anytime you do that you’re fighting behind all day, and I think we played a good team that didn’t turn the ball over,” Brady said.
Stafford went 8 of 8 for 74 yards on a 14-play, 95-yard drive capped off with Tyler Higbee’s 6-yard TD reception on a quick pass to give the Rams a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Tampa Bay tied it on the ensuing drive when Chris Godwin took a jet sweep 2 yards around the right end, but the game wouldn’t stay even for long.
The Rams took a 14-7 lead into halftime when Cooper Kupp caught a 2-yard TD with 54 seconds remaining. It was the first of two scores for Kupp, who had nine catches for 96 yards.
After Jackson’s score, Brady got the Buccaneers within 21-14 on a 1-yard keeper, but the Rams put it out of reach with 10 straight points. Stafford threw his fourth TD, 10 yards to Kupp, and Matt Gay added a 48-yard field goal.
After the teams traded field goals, Tampa Bay added a touchdown with 1:10 remaining when Giovani Bernard scored on a reception from 7 yards.
Jackson, who finished with three catches for 120 yards, has nine career touchdown receptions of at least 75 yards, tying him with Hall of Famer Lance Alworth for the most in the NFL history according to Elias.
STUCK IN NEUTRAL?
Tampa Bay’s running game was virtually nonexistent again with 35 yards. Brady was the Bucs’ leading rusher with 14 yards.
Sony Michel, acquired from New England during the preseason, made his first Los Angeles start and had 20 carries for 67 yards. Michel got the start with Darrell Henderson Jr. inactive because of a rib injury.
Tampa Bay cornerback Jamel Dean had a knee injury during the first quarter and did not return. Tight end Rob Gronkowski took a shot to the ribs during the third quarter and was out for one series before returning.
Los Angeles linebacker Justin Hollins suffered a pectoral injury during the fourth quarter and did not return.
The Buccaneers are at New England next Sunday night as Brady returns to Foxborough, Massachusetts for one of the most eagerly anticipated matchups of the season.
The Rams host Arizona next Sunday in an NFC West matchup of unbeaten teams.