Sun Jan 23 9:22pm ET
By FRED GOODALL
AP Sports Writer
Los Angeles Rams' Matt Gay (8) kicks a 30-yard field goal to defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette (7) runs 9-yards for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) scores against the Los Angeles Rams during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers (23) slips a tackle by Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Jordan Whitehead (33) during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers (23) goes down in front of Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end William Gholston (92) during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Von Miller (40) celebrates with defensive end Aaron Donald (99) after Miller sacked Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and caused a fumble during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette (7) gets by Los Angeles Rams cornerback Darious Williams (11) to score during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Matthew Stafford stood on the sideline helplessly watching Tom Brady be Tom Brady, leading another exhilarating comeback.
This time, though, the seven-time Super Bowl champion left too much time on the clock, giving Stafford a chance to create some playoff magic of his own.
Turns out, 42 seconds was just enough for the Los Angeles quarterback to pull off a Brady-like finish that sent the Rams to the NFC championship game for the second time in four seasons with a 30-27 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
''We knew it wasn't going to be easy,'' Stafford said. ''I mean, we sure let 'em back in the game with a bunch of mistakes on offense. Our defense played outstanding. We've got to clean some stuff up, do a little better job in the turnover department.
''This is a tough team, man, this is what we're all about. Just happy to get a win and keep on moving.''
Stafford threw for 366 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, and the team's biggest offseason acquisition used a pair of long completions to NFL receiving leader Cooper Kupp to position the Rams for Matt Gay's 30-yard field goal as time expired.
''Man, I'm still trying to process everything. That was a crazy game,'' linebacker Von Miller said after the win over the defending Super Bowl champions. ''I knew it was going to come down to the end. All the times that I've played Tom Brady, it always comes down to the end. No lead that we had was safe. I'm so proud of these guys. Everybody's name was called and everybody answered the bell.
''Nobody was perfect, but we still found a way to win it.''
The Rams (14-5) will host next Sunday's NFC title game against the San Francisco 49ers, aiming for a second trip to the Super Bowl in four seasons.
Brady rallied the Bucs from a 27-3 second-half deficit with help from three of the Rams' four turnovers, tying the game on Leonard Fournette's 9-yard run on fourth-and-inches with 42 seconds remaining.
The NFL's all-time passer leader didn't get an opportunity to finish the job.
And it's uncertain if that was the final game for Brady, who's undecided on retirement.
''I haven't put a lot of thought into it,'' said the 44-year-old quarterback, who led the league with a career-best 5,136 yards passing while also throwing for a league-high 43 TDs during the regular season.
Stafford, obtained in the offseason in a trade that sent Jared Goff to Detroit, led the Rams downfield after the ensuing kickoff, using completions of 20 and 44 yards to Kupp to set up Gay's third field goal of the day.
''What an interesting game, what an amazing sign of resilience,'' Rams coach Sean McVay said. ''A lot of things didn't go our way in the second half, but guys kept battling and found a way.''
Earlier, Stafford found Kupp wide open behind the Bucs secondary on a 70-yard scoring play that put Los Angeles up 17-3 early in the second quarter.
''Man, he's the heart and soul of this offense,'' Stafford said. ''What he's able to do down in, down out, whether it's in the pass game, run game - he's an unbelievable competitor.''
Stafford, who had never won a postseason game before beating Arizona in the previous week's wild-card round, completed 28 of 38 passes without an interception. The 13-year veteran also scored on a 1-yard run.
Brady, meanwhile, completed 30 of 54 passes for 329 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was sacked three times and lost a fumble.
Fournette also scored on a 1-yard run for Tampa Bay, which pulled within 27-20 on Brady's 55-yard TD throw to Mike Evans, who made the catch with Jalen Ramsey in pursuit with 3:20 left.
''A lot of guys made a bunch of different plays to get us back into it,'' Brady said. ''We got behind. They made us pretty one-dimensional. We showed a lot of fight. But at the end of the day, when you lose a game you lose a game.''
The Bucs (14-5), who lost to the Rams for third time in two seasons, were trying to become the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champions since the Brady-led New England Patriots during the 2004 season.
Stafford completed nine of his first 12 passes for 176 yards and TDs to Kupp and Kendall Blanton to open a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter.
It was 20-3 at halftime, and the Bucs were fortunate their deficit wasn't bigger. With the Rams on the verge of scoring again in the closing seconds of the second quarter, Cam Akers fumbled at the Tampa Bay 1 and Tampa Bay's Antoine Winfield recovered to keep the defending champs to keep from falling farther behind.
The Rams built the lead to 27-3 on Stafford's quarterback sneak, with help along the way from some uncharacteristic mistakes by the Bucs. That included unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for taunting and Brady, who was flagged while arguing unsuccessfully for what he felt should have been a penalty on the Rams for a hit that appeared to bloody his lip.
''He got in my face in an aggressive manner and used abusive language,'' referee Shawn Hochuli told a pool reporter of Suh after the game. ''As for the hit, we did not think that it rose to the level of roughing the passer.''
The Rams hurt themselves plenty, too, especially while trying to put the game away in the second half.
Kupp, who had nine catches for 183 yards, lost a fumble, and the offense failed to take advantage of Miller sacking Brady to a force a fumble at the Tampa Bay 25 when center Brian Allen snap sailed past Stafford in shotgun formation and recovered by the Bucs.
Finally, Suh forced a second fumble by Akers at the Los Angeles 30, giving Brady an opportunity to tie it in the last two minutes.
''We scratched and clawed. They kept giving us the ball and giving us chances,'' Evans said. ''We took advantage of them, just couldn't get the stop at the end.''
Rams: Played without LT Andrew Whitworth, who was hurt during the wild-card round victory over Arizona.
Buccaneers: CB Carlton Davis left the field favoring his right shoulder late in the first half but finished the game. ... Punt returner Jaelon Darden left with a possible concussion in the fourth quarter..
Rams: Host the NFC championship game against the NFC West-rival 49ers, who have beaten Los Angeles six straight times.
Buccaneers: Await word on whether the 44-year-old Brady will retire or return for a 23rd NFL season.
Divisional Round Playoff Preview
San Francisco 49ers left tackle Trent Edwards (ankle) suffered a right ankle injury during the win over the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night. Fortunately, X-rays were negative, showing no fractures, which increases his chance of being available for the NFC Championship versus the Los Angeles Rams. However, the All-Pro still has a way to go before getting the green light to suit up, and if he doesn't, things may become more challenging for Jimmy Garoppolo, who has struggled during the postseason thus far.
Green Bay Packers running back A.J. Dillon (ribs) sustained a fracture during the narrow Divisional round loss to the 49ers on Saturday night. Although Aaron Jones was the lead man out of the backfield, Dillon still finished the regular season with just over 800 rushing yards and seven total touchdowns. The 23-year-old has proven to be one of the best backups in the league, and with the Packers hinting at a rebuild, there is a chance Dillon could see an enhanced role during the upcoming 2022-23 campaign.
Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu (concussion) will not return to Sunday's game versus the visiting Bills. The defensive specialist suffered the injury during the first quarter, and after going to the locker room for an evaluation, he now finds himself in concussion protocol. The 29-year-old led the team in interceptions while ranking fourth in total tackles this season, so this certainly isn't the update the Chiefs' coaching staff was hoping for. Nonetheless, without Mathieu on the field, Josh Allen will have one less thing to worry about as he attempts to lead Buffalo to the AFC Championship versus the Bengals.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans caught 9-of-16 targets for 119 yards and one touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams. In this raging comeback attempt with absurd passing volume, Evans sometimes looked like the only aspect of the Buccaneers offense that was working. In 2022, with Antonio Brown gone, Chris Godwin starting the season injured and possibly being on another team, and Rob Gronkowski aging, Evans may find himself in an unfamiliar position in 2022 with fairly minimal competition. Regardless of what this offense looks like, as long as he has Tom Brady as his quarterback, Evans should be drafted in the first three rounds. Albeit in different ways, whether or not he has competition, Evans will succeed in fantasy.
Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers had 24 carries for 48 yards and two extremely costly fumbles against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The sophomore runner still looked impressive at times, and considering the Buccaneers have one of the best run defenses and were expecting the Rams to run, this wasn't that discouraging. Fantasy managers should continue to monitor that his fumbling doesn't become a recurring issue, but other than that, this performance was not as bad as it seems. Plus, even after his initial fumble, the Rams remained confident in their young runner, illustrating that they trust him and prioritize his talent over the risk that he brings in terms of ball security, even in the playoffs. In 2022, Akers should be drafted in the early second round as a workhorse back with some lingering questions but elite talent and opportunity.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp collected 183 on nine catches and one touchdown, including a spectacular grab that led to the game-winning field goal against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It's not completely logical, but the chemistry that Kupp and Matthew Stafford share has been truly unparalleled andat timesunstoppable this season. Kupp isn't necessarily the fastest nor most agile, but his football IQ is unmatched and he seemingly always finds a way to produce. Historically, this illogical confidence can lead to disappointment, however. Kupp should be drafted as a top three wide receiver in 2022, but fantasy managers shouldn't expect him to replicate what he did this year.
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford had a phenomenal statistical output going 28-for-38 for 363 yards, two touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, he made a number of almost costly mistakes. Fantasy managers must realize that this wasn't a fluke, and it's just part of the Stafford-experience; that isn't necessarily a bad thing though. For fantasy a quarterback that plays recklessly is typically not penalized that much, and this style of play can lend itself to fantasy stardom by means of comeback attempts. Sometimes, a reckless quarterback such as this can fail in the comeback attempt or even be benched, but Stafford is so talented that neither of these general concerns are major issues. In 2022, with the collection of Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr., and Robert Woods along with Cam Akers and a stellar offensive line, Stafford must be considered a top quarterback in all leagues.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady was down 20-3 at halftime but continued to have an unforgettable performance against the Los Angeles Rams. The 44-year-old ended with 329 yards, one touchdown, and one interception; on its own, for Brady, this is not an impressive feat. However, when watching it, it was obvious that Brady still deserves to be a top fantasy quarterback until further notice, regardless of what weapons are surrounding him. With Antonio Brown gone, Chris Godwin injured to start the season and possibly leaving, Rob Gronkowski's advanced age, and a potential jumble in the backfield, this Buccaneers offense will look a lot different in 2022, determining just how highly he should be drafted. Although he is the greatest of all time, with so many other intriguing options at quarterback, it may be wisest to look somewhere else, especially if Brady has only a couple of his weapons remaining.
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton hasn't committed to returning. The 58-year-old, who's been with the team since 2006, is currently on vacation and hasn't made himself available to those looking for answers. However, some believe a brief retirement may be on the horizon, with defensive coordinator Dennis Allen emerging as the top candidate to take his place. Payton has three years left on his current deal, but New Orleans could receive compensation if he ends up coaching elsewhere. Nevertheless, it's a situation to monitor, especially as it relates to Taysom Hill, who's been a favorite of Payton for years. It also could mean that Michael Thomas, who has had issues with Payton in the past, could remain with the Saints.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams finished with nine catches for 90 yards during the narrow loss to the 49ers. Adams was targeted 11 times on Saturday night, and he did all he could to help advance his team to an NFC Championship appearance. Nonetheless, with the season coming to an unexpected end, the 29-year-old will enter free agency, although there are rumblings that he will receive a franchise tag. He finished the year with a career-high 1,553 yards to go along with 11 touchdowns, so wherever he ends up, he's expected to continue contributing at a high level. Yet, his outlook will be higher if he remains paired with Aaron Rodgers, who hinted at retirement while entertaining the idea of playing elsewhere next season.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard had only one catch for six yards during the loss to the 49ers on Saturday. The 26-year-old had four touchdowns through his final three games of the regular season. Yet, Lazard's performance against San Francisco didn't surprise anyone, especially those who've been disappointed with his output over the years. Nonetheless, his outlook heading into next season is contingent on numerous factors, including the future of both Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams. Lazard will also be a restricted free agent, so there is a chance he will be suiting up for a different team.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones had only 41 yards off 12 carries during the loss to the 49ers. However, he made up for it by adding nine receptions for 129 yards. The veteran did all he could to help his team advance to the NFC Championship. However, it wasn't enough, although he shouldn't shoulder any blame. Nonetheless, after Jones surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in each of his previous two seasons, he finished with only 799. While he did have a career-high 52 catches and six receiving touchdowns, his outlook heading into the 2021-22 campaign will be severely impacted by the future of Aaron Rodgers, who may retire or look to play elsewhere.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel finished with three grabs for 44 yards during the win over the Packers on Saturday night. He also got some work out of the backfield, adding 10 touches for 39 yards. While the 26-year-old didn't score a touchdown, it was still a solid showing for Samuel, who now has 20 carries during the postseason. Nonetheless, with the wideout appearing to get banged up on several occasions versus Green Bay, head coach Kyle Shanahan may take that into consideration on Championship Sunday, which may mean more carries for Elijah Mitchell.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle finished with a team-high four catches for 63 yards during the win over the Packers. Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel combined for 27 carries, so Kittle was impacted to some degree. He also dropped a pass from Jimmy Garoppolo in the first quarter, one which could have enhanced his statistical totals immensely. Nonetheless, while Kittle hasn't had the most productive postseason, his upside is higher than nearly everyone else's at the position. As a result, he should remain on the radar for DFS managers on Championship Sunday against the Buccaneers or Rams.
San Francisco 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell finished with 17 carries for 53 yards during the win over Green Bay on Saturday. He also added three catches for 18 yards. After Mitchell had 27 touches during the Wild Card win over the Dallas Cowboys, he was involved in a timeshare with Deebo Samuel, who had 10 carries for 39 yards. As a result, the 23-year-old is a risky DFS option on Championship Sunday, primarily since he may continue to surrender opportunities to Samuel moving forward.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo finished with 131 yards and an interception during the Divisional round victory over the Packers. The frigid Lambeau Field weather made things difficult for both teams. However, it at least opened the door for Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell to combine for 27 carries. Nonetheless, the 30-year-old signal-caller has yet to throw a touchdown during the postseason, so DFS managers may want to avoid him on Championship Sunday, especially since Kyle Shanahan appears set on prioritizing the running attack.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady will take some time before deciding his future at the end of the postseason, whenever that may be. The future Hall of Famer has routinely made it known that age wouldn't be the deciding factor regarding retirement. Still, the 44-year-old, who will be 45 before the 2021-22 campaign commences, could be playing his final game if the Bucs can't get past the Rams in the Divisional round. Despite his advanced NFL age, Brady hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, and he finished the regular season with a career-high 5,316 yards to go along with 43 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Nonetheless, if the veteran does return for another season, he will likely remain one of the most sought-after fantasy options at the position.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will take some time before deciding his future. Whether that means remaining with the team or finding a new one isn't known. However, the Packers will be nearly $45 million over the salary cap heading into the 2021-22 campaign, and the office will need to make some tough decisions regarding the franchise's direction moving forward. The reigning MVP is in the conversation for another after he had a fantastic year, finishing with 4,115 yards, 37 touchdowns, and only four interceptions. Nonetheless, with Rodgers indicating he didn't want to be a part of a potential rebuild after Green Bay's narrow loss to the 49ers in the Divisional round, chances are higher than ever that he could be under center for a new team next season. Yet, retirement also isn't out of the question.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins caught seven of nine targets for 96 yards in Saturday's 19-16 Divisional-Round win over the Tennessee Titans. After catching one pass for 10 yards in the Wild-Card win over the Las Vegas Raiders, he bounced back with a strong performance in Saturday's win. The 23-year-old led the team with nine targets and was second in receiving yards, only behind Ja'Marr Chase (109). Higgins has topped 60 yards or more in six of his last eight games and will look to build on Saturday's performance in the AFC Championship game against either the Buffalo Bills or Kansas City Chiefs.
Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 15-of-24 passes for 220 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions in Saturday's 19-16 Divisional-Round loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The 33-year-old threw an interception in the team's opening drive and, with the game tied, later threw a costly pick late in the fourth quarter. It was the third time this season he threw exactly three interceptions. He salvaged some of his fantasy day in the third quarter with a 33-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver A.J. Brown. Tannehill is expected to be the Titans starting quarterback in 2022 after signing a four-year, $118 million contract with the team in March of 2020. The former Miami Dolphin will be a low-end QB2 heading into 2022 fantasy drafts.