Rams hold off Buccaneers, advance to NFC Championship Game



Rams hold off Buccaneers, advance to NFC Championship Game

Los Angeles Rams punter and holder Johnny Hekker (6) celebrates the game-winning field goal against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. Photo by Steve Nesius/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 23 (UPI) — The Los Angeles Rams escaped with a 30-27 divisional playoff win over Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

Matt Gay’s 30-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Rams into the NFC Championship Game for the second time in the past four seasons. Los Angeles beat the New Orleans Saints in the 2018 NFC title game before losing to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.

The Rams will play the San Francisco 49ers in next week’s NFC Championship Game. The 49ers used a last-second field goal to defeat Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in their divisional showdown Saturday night.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “I mean, we sure let them 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.”

Brady rallied the Buccaneers from a 27-3 second-half deficit with the help of three Rams turnovers. Tampa Bay tied the game after running back Leonard Fournette’s 9-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-inches with 42 seconds left.

The 44-year-old Brady, however, didn’t get another chance to put the Buccaneers in front.

Stafford guided the Rams down the field after the ensuing kickoff, using long completions of 20 and 44 yards to the NFL’s regular-season receiving leader and MVP hopeful Cooper Kupp to set up Gay’s game-winning kick.

Stafford, who had never won a playoff game before the Rams’ wild-card victory over the Arizona Cardinals last week, completed 28 of 38 passes for 366 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against Tampa Bay. The 13-year NFL veteran also scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter.

Kupp finished with nine catches for 183 yards and one touchdown. Fellow Rams wideout Odell Beckham Jr. had six catches for 69 yards on eight targets.

Meanwhile, Brady — who remains undecided on retirement — completed 30 of 54 passes for 329 yards with one touchdown and an interception. He was sacked three times and lost a fumble.

Fournette ended with 13 carries for 51 yards and two rushing scores. Bucs receiver Mike Evans had eight receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown.

The Buccaneers, who lost to the Rams for the third time in the past two seasons, were attempting to become the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champions since the Brady-led Patriots during the 2004 campaign.


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