Tom Brady and the Buccaneers will not be defending their Super Bowl title in 2022.
The Buccaneers lost to the Rams 30-27 in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs despite coming back from a 27-3 deficit in the second half.
Brady and Co. rallied from 14 points down with 3:56 left in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 27 with under a minute left. However, Matthew Stafford led the Rams into field-goal range after getting the ball back to seal the victory and give the Rams a chance to play in their second NFC Championship Game under Sean McVay.
Tampa Bay's comeback push was strong, but too much went wrong for them in their season-ending loss. Here's a look at what caused the Bucs' defeat and sent them into an offseason of uncertainty.
Defensive lapses against Cooper Kupp
The Buccaneers have a lot of talent on defense and a lot of experienced players. However, their players didn't have a lot of experience playing together this season leading into their matchup with the Rams.
Tampa Bay hadn't played a game during which its entire starting defense was healthy until Sunday afternoon. They had been missing at least one player among the 11 starters in the previous 18 games, but having their top players available was supposed to be a boon for Tampa Bay.
For the most part, it was a positive for the Bucs. However, there were some key communication issues and coverage busts within the group as they worked all together for the first time this season. That led to a couple of massive plays for Cooper Kupp.
In the first half, Kupp caught a 69-yard touchdown after he found himself completely open down the right sideline on a third-and-20. Stafford hit him in stride easily for the score.
Later, Kupp was involved in the dagger play that sealed the Rams' victory. He caught a 44-yard pass from Brady after breaking open over the middle of the field in a one-on-one matchup with a safety. He perfectly adjusted to Stafford's throw 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 all 64 passing yards on the final drive of the game before Matt Gay's game winning field goal.
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First half offensive issues
Tampa Bay's offense looked great during their roaring comeback in the second half. However, their slow start was what necessitated the late push to tie the Rams.
In the first half, the Bucs notched just three total points. They could have had six if not for a missed field goal by Ryan Succop, but even still, their offense was not moving the ball well. The passing game wasn't there. Tom Brady had an interception and had been pressured on eight of his 23 dropbacks. Neither was the running game, as Tampa Bay ran the ball well on its first possession but never got in rhythm after that.
As a result, the offense had just 118 yards at halftime and put the team behind the 8-ball, as they were trailing by 17 at halftime. Eventually, the Bucs figured things out and scored 24 points in the second half, but by then, they were battling to get back into the game.
Offensive line troubles
The No. 1 issue for the Bucs against the Rams was their blocking. Their offensive line was an issue against a stalwart Los Angeles front, and Brady was under pressure throughout the game as a result.
This wasn't a major surprise. Tampa Bay's best blocker, right tackle Tristan Wirfs, missed the game due to an ankle sprain. Meanwhile, center Ryan Jensen played through an ankle injury of his own while Wirfs' replacement, Josh Wells, battled through a quadriceps injury that limited him all week in practice.
Because of those injuries, the Rams — who finished the regular season with 50 sacks, good for the third-most in the NFL — were able to get after Brady frequently with Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd. Brady was sacked just three times, but he was pressured far more frequently and was forced to throw numerous passes away in the first half.
The most important Rams 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 go for it. They failed, despite a personal foul on Eric Weddle, and the Rams were able to run nearly six minutes off the clock on the ensuing drive after the turnover on downs.
While the Bucs were still able to get back into the game after that play, preventing them from scoring there was a crucial part of the Rams' win.
No Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown
The offensive line absences weren't the only ones that impacted the Bucs on Sunday. They certainly missed Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown during the contest, as Brady struggled to find a top 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. Meanwhile, Brown was cut by the Bucs after he left the field following an outburst on the sidelines in Week 16 against the Jets. They represented two of the top three Buccaneers receivers, and with Breshad Perriman and Cyril Grayson also sidelined by injuries, the team was thin at the position.
As a result, Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson served as the team's Nos. 2 and 3 receivers during the contest. They combined for seven catches and 53 yards. Tampa Bay's lack of dynamic weaponry — along with their poor blocking — forced the team to resort to a lot of screens and dump-offs to Leonard Fournette late in the game. That generated yardage, but the Bucs simply weren't all that threatening downfield, save for a late-game 55-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans.
Excluding that big play, Brady averaged just 5.2 yards per attempt. Including it, his average was a merely decent 6.1. He may have had more chances to make plays with either Godwin or Brown available.
The focus will be entirely on Tom Brady's future moving forward. There are rumors that Brady could retire after the season, but the veteran quarterback hasn't officially announced his intentions.
If Brady does hang up his cleats, the Bucs will focus on trying to find a quarterback to replace Brady and bring a win-now roster back to the playoffs. If Brady stays, questions will emerge about whether the team can retain Chris Godwin and other core members of their team including Ryan Jensen, Jason Pierre-Paul, Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette.
The Bucs will also have a keen eye on what's going on with the Saints, as Sean Payton may be mulling retirement. If he does leave, Bruce Arians would be the longest-tenured coach in the NFC South.
No matter what happens, Bucs fans will be disappointed that the team couldn't do more in the postseason with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers also falling in the divisional round. But if the team's core comes back in 2022, they will have a chance to compete for a title again next season.