Featuring two of the top defenses in the NFL and two of the top teams in the NFC, Monday night saw the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers go back and forth. Trailing by three points with just more than two minutes to play, Tom Brady took over only for Jordan Fuller's second interception to seal it, the Rams defense fittingly securing a 27-24 win over the Bucs.
1) Jared Goff was equally outstanding and bewildering, while the Rams' top-flight receiving duo was stellar. But Monday night was a showcase of the epitome of who the 2020 Rams are -- a team led and defined by a dominant defense. Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and the bunch confounded Tom Brady and the Buccaneers offense on the way to an important win. Rookie Jordan Fuller's second interception of Brady -- each of them shockingly horrible throws by TB12 -- fittingly wrapped up the contest, the Rams moving to 7-3 and keeping pace with the Seahawks atop the NFC West. Los Angeles has reaffirmed that it is indeed one of the NFC's heavyweights and its defense is the catalyst for that ranking. On an evening in which the Rams' terrific tandem of wideouts dazzled, the big-name Bucs WR corps of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown was held to a combined 159 yards receiving on 20 catches (7.95 yards per catch). Tampa Bay's offense could only find its way to 251 yards of offense, its running game non-existent and its passing game fighting for every yard and losing that fight more often than not. Offenses will always receive top billing, a notion boldly underscored when Brady takes the field. But Monday night featured a matchup between two top-three defenses and it was L.A. which stood tall.
2) This is a mercurial band of Buccaneers with its aging all-star cast on offense particularly inconsistent. There have been times during this season in which Brady's bunch has been brilliant and others when it's been befuddling. Most of Monday night was the latter. Brady often looked confounded and out of sorts and at others just looked upset that Leonard Fournette or somebody else had bumbled an opportunity. But the Rams kept letting Brady and Co. hang around and get back in. After Sean McVay conservatively settled for a field goal to move ahead by the final score, Brady was given 2:32 to drive 81 yards to tie or win the game. This was set up for a Brady classic. Instead, Brady threw a jaw-dropping interception and the Bucs dropped to 7-4. It's possible Brady and the offense are still finding themselves or settling in, which may explain such mercurial play. Nonetheless, on this night, the Rams were infuriating in how they let the Bucs hang around, but Brady couldn't make them pay in the end. When a moment was presented to the future Hall of Famer, he gave it right back. Once again, Tampa's inconsistency seems to be the only aspect of certainty.
3) Tip-toeing between brilliance and bafflement, Goff went along on Monday. The Rams offense was at times outstanding and at others infuriating as L.A. could never put the Buccaneers away. Staring at the NFL's No. 3 defense, the Rams offense drew first blood and made an opening-drive statement. Goff was impressively efficient on this methodical march, leading L.A. on an 80-yard scoring drive over 13 plays and seven minutes, 52 seconds that saw him complete seven passes on eight throws for 72 yards, concluding with a beauty of a four-yard throw on third down to Robert Woods off a scramble. When L.A. moved to a hurry-up spread, Goff was equally impressive as he would find rookie Van Jefferson for a TD and then worked a two-minute drill wonderfully to lead the Rams to a 17-14 halftime lead. At the intermission, Goff had put together a sensational line: 21-for-25 for 212 yards and two touchdowns. But in the second half, that precision was lost. Goff began the third quarter with a dreadful interception to defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul (his second in as many games) and threw another in the fourth. Over the Rams' final five drives, Goff led them to just three points. At game's end, Goff had three touchdowns and 376 yards, but the Rams had outgained the Bucs, 413-251. This was a game the Rams should've won handily, but L.A. had to fend off Brady for the win. In many ways it was maddening, as Goff looked every bit the franchise QB his rooters believe he is and then on the next play looked just the opposite. Bottom line, when Goff is great, the Rams are, too. When he's not, the defense is going to have to come up big and come up clutch as it did Monday.
4) If anyone had forgotten just how sensational the tandem of Cooper Kupp and Woods can be, Monday night was an enjoyable reminder. For the third time (per NFL Research), they tallied 100-yard outings in the same game, with the last two coming against the Bucs. Woods had 12 receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown, while Kupp complemented with 11 catches for 145 yards. With such a cast of receiving talent on the opposing sideline, the Woods-Kupp duo far outplayed their counterparts and when the duo was clicking with Goff it was a throwback to the 2018 squad that dazzled fans and dominated defenses en route to the Super Bowl. When these two heat up, they're fun to watch and difficult to stop.
5) The Bucs' Evans has often displayed a nose for the end zone, but on this night he showed the effort and fortitude for it, as well. In a play that should be shown over and over as an example of how football should be played, Evans simply would not quit, bulling through and dragging along Rams DBs Troy Hill and Darious Williams (who each contributed mightily to the Rams' stellar defensive effort outside of this play) for a nine-yard touchdown. It wasn't some jaw-dropping athletic grab, it was a man who wouldn't be stopped short of six, the best intentions of a pair of defenders be damned. It was an improbable score that came to be due to astounding effort. On a forgettable night for the Bucs offense, this was a most memorable play.
6) McVay is an offensive coach whose team has taken on a defensive identity. In an NFL in which trends and schemes change at lightning speed, McVay deserves some recognition (or at least a few sentences) for altering his approach, going with the strength of his squad and ultimately checking any ego to do what's best for the franchise (and ultimately the longevity of his job). And on Monday, he once again showed off his offensive prowess when the Rams turned it on and looked terrific at points in the first half, going from an efficient, methodical start to a high-flying, hurry-up look. However, as much as McVay should be commended, he must also be questioned for his conservative approach late. Having had kicking issues all season and with new addition Matt Gay having already missed a kick earlier in the game, McVay stunningly called a run on third-and-8 with 2:46 to go. The run was stuffed, Gay made a 40-yarder for a precarious lead and arguably the greatest quarterback of all time was given two-plus minutes to tie or beat the Rams. It worked out with a Rams win, of course, but decisions like these might well cost L.A. in the long run.
7) It's not often that a hallowed record is a footnote, but Brady once again became the career leader in touchdown passes, with his second of the game the 566th of his illustrious career. He and Drew Brees have gone back and forth with the record this season. However, with Brees dealing with an overwhelming amount of broken ribs, this might well be the time in which Brady moves ahead and takes history for himself.