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Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ back-to-back Super Bowl aspirations fall short vs. Los Angeles Rams – Tampa Bay Buccaneers Blog



TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quest to “go for two,” as coach Bruce Arians called it, for an eighth ring for quarterback Tom Brady and for a second boat parade along the Hillsborough River, has fallen short.

There will be no NFC Championship Game in Tampa next week, and there will be no shot at a repeat Super Bowl for the Bucs as they suffered a heartbreaking, 30-27 defeat to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC divisional round Sunday.

Tampa Bay scored 24 straight points to knot the score at 27 with 42 seconds left and clawed its way back thanks to a 55-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Mike Evans and two touchdown runs from Leonard Fournette. But the defense surrendered plays of 20 and 44 yards on the final drive to set up a 30-yard field goal from kicker Matt Gay as time expired.

“It hurts because we had hopes of going to the Super Bowl again to try and repeat,” cornerback Jamel Dean said. “Knowing we were down, we got back into the game and there was hope. And then seeing them kick the field goal just crushed everything.”

“It’s hard,” Arians said. “The finality of this league’s a b—-. And that locker room [of] guys has been through hell and back this year, and I love ‘em. They stuck together through all the injuries and everything else. Really, really proud of the comeback – not the finish.”

Now, the San Francisco 49ers, who handed the top-seeded Green Bay Packers a stunning defeat in some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded at Lambeau Field on Saturday, will travel to SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles — the site of Super Bowl LVI — for a rematch of the Niners’ Week 18 overtime victory. That game allowed the Bucs to move into the No. 2 seed and bump the Rams to No. 4, which meant a cross-country flight to Tampa for Sean McVay and his team, who are now 3-0 against Brady and Arians over the past two years.

The only other time both of the NFC’s No. 1 and No. 2 seeds were wiped out in the divisional round was 2008.

Brady, who finished 30-of-54 for 329 yards, one touchdown pass and one interception, was pressured heavily on 17 dropbacks Sunday – the second-most of his time with the Buccaneers – and struggled to connect with his weapons on third down.

“I think there’s a lot of really tough, hard-nosed guys that believe in each other, and we all believe that we’ve just gotta make one play,” Brady said. “But at the end of the day, it was just way too many mistakes. … They made plenty of mistakes too. I wouldn’t say it was a perfect game by them either. But in the end, they just made one more play than us.”

His seemingly bulletproof offensive line that played 1,769 snaps together since his arrival suffered not one, but two colossal blows last week. All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs suffered a right high ankle sprain and couldn’t play, while Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen suffered a left ankle sprain and wasn’t close to full strength.

Then Wirfs’ backup, Josh Wells, suffered a right ankle injury during the game, forcing backup guard Nick Leverett to step in, although Wells returned.

“I’ve got to give Josh Wells a lot of credit,” Arians said. “He was playing on a really bad leg.”

They were able to get a big piece back Sunday in Fournette, who spent the last month on injured reserve with a hamstring injury and missed the wild-card round. But they were without wide receivers Chris Godwin, who suffered a torn ACL in Week 15, and Antonio Brown, who was released.

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman, who started last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, was also ruled out Friday with hip and abdominal injuries, and Cyril Grayson, who caught the game-winning touchdown in Week 17, was held out with a hamstring injury.

Like their Week 3 loss to the Rams, the Bucs’ starting defense — finally 100% healthy for the first time all season — was unable to consistently pressure quarterback Matthew Stafford, who picked apart their blitzes. They had no answers for MVP candidate Cooper Kupp, either, as the Rams receiver got wide open on a 70-yard touchdown when safety Mike Edwards faltered in two-deep coverage.

They did manage to get some takeaways, though. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting both had fumble recoveries to keep the Bucs afloat, with Murphy-Bunting’s setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Fournette to make it 27-13 heading into the fourth quarter. Fournette also scored the tying touchdown with 42 seconds left after Ndamukong Suh forced a Cam Akers fumble that was recovered by Lavonte David, one of four fumble recoveries by Tampa Bay.

But defensive coordinator’s Todd Bowles all-out blitz failed to pressure Stafford, and it left Winfield Jr. alone in the middle of the field on Kupp.

“It was an all-out blitz. We should have gotten a ton of pressure,” Arians said, adding that he doesn’t second-guess the decision, but he wasn’t sure everyone was on the same page, something David, a team captain, agreed with.

“It was just the situation – hurry up, guys scrambling all over the place trying to get lined up – just an unfortunate situation,” David said. “Some people got the call, some people didn’t. It is what it is. They made a great play, they had a great playcall lined up and they made that play. It just sucks for us to lose in that manner, from battling back the way we did.”

But is this how it all ends for Brady? Is this the lasting image fans will have of his 22-year career? Battered, bloody-lipped and falling just short of yet another epic comeback win, reminiscent of his Super Bowl LI victory against the Atlanta Falcons and the 38 other times in his career (six in the playoffs) that he surged back from a double-digit deficit?

Sources told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington and Adam Schefter that Brady will mull his options over the next month and possibly longer before making that decision.

Arians said there is no timeline for when a conversation will be had with Brady.

“It’s up to Tom,” Arians said. “Just like all veteran players.”

The Bucs were lauded for their salary cap gymnastics this past offseason to retain all 22 of their starters on offense and defense, which hadn’t been done by a defending Super Bowl champion since the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers. But health wasn’t on their side. History wasn’t either. They fought tooth-and-nail, but they came up short.

Of the 11 previous defending Super Bowl champions who played in the wild-card round the next season, none advanced past the divisional playoffs, including two teams led by Brady. Also, no team had won six straight playoff games since Brady’s New England Patriots won 10 straight from 2001 to ’05.

Now that the focus shifts to next year, there’s much uncertainty.

Arians said after the game that he will return for 2022. But at quarterback, the Bucs don’t have a viable successor on their roster. Their two backups? Journeyman Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin, while rookie Kyle Trask, who was selected in the second round of the draft, has been inactive all season and has gotten few practice reps.

The Bucs have 24 players on their active roster who are set to become unrestricted free agents. The cascade of players who could defect if Brady retires could be even more devastating.

On a day when the Bucs needed to be at full strength — against a Rams team that has been “Super Bowl or bust” since, ironically, the same year Brady handed them a 13-3 defeat in Super Bowl LIII — they weren’t. They just didn’t have enough.

“We scratched and clawed,” Evans said. “They kept giving us chances. We took advantage of ‘em. We just couldn’t get the stop in the end.”

“Obviously we showed a lot of fight,” Brady said. “But at the end of the day, you lose a game, you lose a game.”

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NFL Playoffs — Clutch kickers dominate in divisional-round showdowns



It’s a good time to be an NFL kicker.

The AFC and NFC divisional games gave football fans everywhere a reason to root for their team’s kicker.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, there have only been 10 games in NFL postseason history which have ended with game-winning field goals as time expired in regulation. Three of them came this weekend — the first time there has been three in a single postseason.

In Saturday’s AFC Divisional Game, rookie Evan McPherson kicked a 52-yard field goal as time expired, pushing the underdog Cincinnati Bengals past the top-seeded Tennessee Titans, 19-16.

In his post-win news conference, quarterback Joe Burrow shared that McPherson was ready to call game before he even took the field.

In addition to the walk-off field goal, McPherson made all the three other field goals he attempted in the game. He’s now eight-of-eight in the playoffs.

Just a few hours later, the San Francisco 49ers also had their fate secured by a kicker as the game wound down.

Niners kicker Robbie Gould has made all 20 of his field goal attempts in the playoffs during his storied career. Saturday night was a sweet one with his 45-yard kick as time expired, sending the home team Green Bay Packers packing.

“You’re a f—ing legend man. F— the Packers,” 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said to Gould after the game.

On Sunday, more kickers had a say in their team’s result.

As time expired Sunday afternoon, the Los Angeles Rams were able to knock off the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road thanks to a 30-yard field goal from Matt Gay.

Per ESPN Stats and Information, with the Bengals, 49ers and Rams all winning on the road, this is the third time where three road teams won in the divisional round since its inception in 1970.

And even though Harrison Butker had a shaky start to Sunday night’s game — including a missed field goal and extra point — the Kansas City Chiefs kicker nailed a game-tying 49-yard field goal at the end of regulation to force overtime against the Buffalo Bills.

Patrick Mahomes then went 75 yards and tossed the game-winning touchdown to Travis Kelce for a ticket to the Chiefs’ fourth straight AFC Championship Game.

The win by Kansas City, the No. 2 seed, was the only win by the home team all weekend.

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Bills watch victory slip away in 13 seconds as Chiefs end Buffalo’s postseason again – Buffalo Bills Blog



KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen could have immediately run off the field, headed into the locker room and the offseason that awaited.

Instead, after embracing Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes moments after he had thrown the game-winning score Sunday night, Allen took his time and let his eyes linger. He looked around Arrowhead Stadium, watching Kansas City fans and players celebrate another postseason win and a berth in their fourth straight home AFC Championship Game.

“It was tough to be in that moment,” Allen said. “Holding on to that feeling and making sure that we don’t feel like this again. And like I said, back-to-back years in the same spot. It’s tough to take in, but it’s part of the game. It’s part of the learning process. …

“We got to use this and figure out how we can be better and how we can accomplish what we want to accomplish.”

The 42-36 loss to the Chiefs in overtime marked a second straight year the Bills’ season has come to an end against Kansas City. Buffalo has yet to win a road playoff game under coach Sean McDermott (0-4).

Their goal of reaching the Super Bowl — and of getting past the Chiefs — will have to wait at least another year. The Bills spent the offseason preparing to beat Kansas City after losing in last year’s AFC title game at Arrowhead.

This time, the game ended in devastating fashion on the first drive of overtime after the teams scored four times in the final two minutes of regulation.

“We just ended up on the wrong side of maybe one of the greatest games in postseason history,” center Mitch Morse said.

Wide receiver Gabriel Davis had a breakout performance Sunday night, becoming the first player in postseason history to catch four touchdown passes. He finished with eight receptions for 201 yards.

“Gabe had his opportunity tonight and he made some outstanding plays,” Allen said.

Despite the offense’s heroics, the Bills’ defense came up short when it was needed most. Trailing 36-33, the Chiefs got the ball back with just 13 seconds left before marching downfield in two plays, and Harrison Butker kicked a 49-yard game-tying field goal.

The 25 points scored in the last two minutes of regulation are the second most of regulation of any game in the Super Bowl era, per Elias Sports Bureau research.

“We talked about a lot of things,” McDermott said of the team’s approach to the end of the game. “I’m just gonna leave it at the execution. And that starts with me.”

The league’s No. 1 pass defense fell apart in overtime, allowing Mahomes to complete 6 of 6 passes, including the winning score to tight end Travis Kelce.

After an offseason partially built around addressing problems that came up last postseason against the Chiefs, especially the pass rush, the Bills have to get back to work on finding ways to get past Kansas City, something that will be no easy feat.

Wide receiver Tyreek Hill and Kelce again had big games against the Bills, combining for 246 yards on 19 receptions and two touchdowns. Mahomes finished with 378 yards and three touchdowns.

On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs were able to take wide receiver Stefon Diggs out of the game. He finished with three receptions on six targets for 7 yards and a successful 2-point conversion.

“[Diggs is] obviously one of our best players and we’ve got to make sure we’re getting him the ball,” McDermott said. “But at the end of the day, we scored to take the lead with 13 seconds left. So, there’s a lot we can talk about, but we put ourselves in a position to win the game.”

The Bills will now head into an offseason with limited cap room and changes on the way in the front office and potentially the coaching staff. Much of the team will be returning, although there are some key veteran decisions on the way, for yet another run at finding their way back to the big game.

Describe the game in two words: Heartbreaking end. The Bills’ No. 1 defense fell just short when the team needed stops with a trip to the AFC Championship Game at stake.

QB breakdown: Allen continued his postseason magic, completing 27 of 37 passes for 329 yards and four touchdowns. He was also the team’s leading rusher with 68 yards on 11 carries and had six rushing first downs, the most by a quarterback in the past two postseasons.

Allen finished the postseason with nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. It wasn’t enough to come away with the win Sunday night, but Allen had some of his best performances of the season in the playoffs. He became the first player with four passing touchdowns and zero interceptions in back-to-back games in postseason history.

“[No.] 17 is always going to make a play with the ball in his hand — we got a lot of trust and faith in him,” Davis said. “He’s the best quarterback in the NFL and I stand by that, and I know that when it’s time to make plays, I know he’s gonna be there to make them.”

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