Sunday’s meeting between the Los Angles Rams (3-4) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5) is the first time in NFL history that the two most recent Super Bowl winners will face off against each other with losing records – watch live on Sky Sports NFL from 9.25pm, Sunday
Last Updated: 06/11/22 9:57am
History will be made in the NFL on Sunday – but not the good kind – as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the defending Super Bowl-champion Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams have lost three of their last four to sit 3-4 on the season, while the Bucs’ plight is even more dire at 3-5 after five defeats in six. It’s the first time in NFL history that the two most recent Super Bowl champions will meet while owning losing records.
So where has it all gone wrong?
Tampa Bay’s issues are well-documented. A certain Tom Brady at quarterback opted to finally call time on his seven-time Super Bowl-winning career in the offseason, only to pull a dramatic U-turn a mere 40 days later.
Brady in danger of bowing out via the back door
There have been concerns over just how ‘all in’ Brady has been, or can be, at the age of 45, while the high-profile break down in his marriage to Gisele Bundchen hasn’t helped matters.
His play on the field has been okay – Brady is, rather surprisingly, second in the NFL in passing yards (2,267) so far this season, below only Joe Burrow and above Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes – but he hasn’t had much help from the Buccaneers run game, his offensive line, nor their defense as a whole.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2022 season
|One||@ Dallas Cowboys||W 19-3|
|Two||@ New Orleans Saints||W 20-10|
|Three||vs Green Bay Packers||L 12-14|
|Four||vs Kansas City Chiefs||L 31-41|
|Five||vs Atlanta Falcons||W 21-15|
|Six||@ Pittsburgh Steelers||L 18-20|
|Seven||@ Carolina Panthers||L 3-21|
|Eight||vs Baltimore Ravens||L 22-27|
Brady’s decision to return for another year was born out of an insatiable appetite to not only compete, but to win.
An agonising 30-27 loss in the divisional round of last year’s playoffs to the very team they’re to face on Sunday – Brady having rallied the Bucs from a 27-3 deficit in the third quarter to tie the game late on – and then having to watch as the Rams went on to lift his Vince Lombardi Trophy was enough to convince him for ‘one last dance’.
But, unlike Michael Jordan’s last run to a championship with the great Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s as he bowed out from basketball (we’ll chose to forget his latter stint with the Washington Wizards), Brady is in danger of saying goodbye to the game with a miserable farewell tour of meaningless dead-rubber matches with his team already out of the playoffs.
“It’s hard to watch,” Sky Sports’ Neil Reynolds wrote in his weekly column. “Brady could have walked away after winning the Super Bowl at the end of the 2020 season, or at the end of last year, finishing as the NFL’s leader in passing yards and touchdowns.
“I have been doing a lot of work preparing for the Bucs-Seattle Seahawks game in Germany [next Sunday] – I’ll be there for Sky Sports – and I’m curious to see whether Brady will in fact be there.”
Former NFL quarterback Chris Simms said similar on NBC’s Pro Football Talk (Sky Sports NFL, weekdays, 6pm): “I think most of football thinks Tom Brady regrets that he is playing football right now.”
Brady has stressed his commitment still to the team and suggested he wouldn’t walk away, but time is running out if he is to avoid the very real possibility of this team not making the playoffs and him exiting the league he has served so well via the back door.
The Buccaneers are actually only one game out of first place in their division, with the Atlanta Falcons (4-4) – who Brady and the Bucs beat earlier in the season – currently leading the way in the NFC South, but Tampa are in the midst of a three-game losing run. Brady has only once before lost four in a row in his entire NFL career way back when in 2002.
Pro Football Talk presenter Mike Florio said this week: “The Buccaneers need this win. Even though they’re in that bad division, falling to 3-6 there’s a point where it’s hard to keep the guys believing.
November 6, 2022, 9:15pm
“I know it’s helpful to have Tom Brady. He’ll never give up on anything, no matter how dark it will get – he’ll find a glimmer of light they can seize upon.
“But, at some point, you just have to win a game. And it doesn’t get any easier after this one – they’ve got to pack up the operation, head to Germany and play a Seahawks team who are a hell of a lot better than anyone expected them to be.”
Brady himself is as determined as ever. “It’s tough getting up here every week figuring out how to not be overly disappointed in what we’re doing, but we’re fighting hard and we’re going to try to make it better,” he said.
“We have a lot of football left and we’ve got to do a better job.”
Predictable Rams getting close to ‘must-win’ territory
Also desperately scrapping away to stay relevant this season are the Rams, having so far endured a bleak defence of their Super Bowl win from a year ago.
The Rams’ decline has perhaps not been as violent as the Buccaneers’, suffering no more than two losses in a row at any stage this season, but it has been just as surprising. This was the expensively assembled squad of superstars that helped make the ‘F them picks’ approach to the draft and team-building catch fire around the league. The Rams were seen as the model to build a winner.
But, a year on, they’re in just as much trouble as Tampa Bay, maybe even more, with the strength of their division, the NFC West, far superior to the South. The Seahawks (5-3) currently lead the way, but there’s also their fearsome foes, the San Francisco 49ers (4-4) – who beat them last week and twice already this season – to worry about.
Los Angeles Rams 2022 season
|One||vs Buffalo Bills||L 10-31|
|Two||vs Atlanta Falcons||W 31-27|
|Three||@ Arizona Cardinals||W 20-12|
|Four||@ San Francisco 49ers||L 9-24|
|Five||vs Dallas Cowboys||L 10-22|
|Six||vs Carolina Panthers||W 24-10|
|Eight||vs San Francisco 49ers||L 14-31|
A wild card berth is perhaps L.A.’s most likely avenue into the postseason, but the success of the NFC East, and both the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants sitting 6-2 behind the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles (8-0) complicates matters.
It could potentially leave the likes of the Rams, the 49ers, the Green Bay Packers (3-5) and maybe even the Buccaneers, were they to fail to claim their division, fighting over one solitary remaining wild card berth.
Simms added on Pro Football Talk: “I don’t know if either team [Rams or Buccaneers] is done. But it’s getting close to that.
“But if you’re going to make me pick one which is more desperate, I’m going to pick the Rams, because they have fewer avenues to get into the playoffs.
“As it sits right now, the Rams have got to be scared of the NFC East, and if the Giants hang around, and the fact that Seattle continue to play well. Plus, we all know what the 49ers are capable of in their division.
“This is a big game, certainly.”
The defending champs can at least still rely on a fearsome defense for Sunday’s crunch clash. The unit, anchored by three-time defensive player of the year Aaron Donald, ranks fifth overall in the NFL in yards allowed per game (310.9). The problems lie on offense.
The tables quite literally turn on the opposite side of the ball, with quarterback Matthew Stafford’s offense fifth from bottom in scoring (16.9 points per game).
The 34-year-old Stafford has been banged up with an elbow injury on his throwing arm all season, having had a non-surgical procedure during the offseason to try to ease the pain. But he still looks bothered by the issues, throwing thrown eight interceptions – tied for second-most in the league – to only seven touchdowns.
Not helping Stafford, not helping Brady’s plight this year has been the complete lack of a run game. Tampa Bay sit rock bottom in the NFL with a paltry 61.9 yards per game and Los Angeles aren’t much better in 31st with 68.4.
Stafford too has had his own protection issues sitting behind a much-changed offensive line, with the loss of four-time Pro Bowler Andrew Whitworth to retirement most clearly felt. Stafford has been sacked 24 times already, tied for fourth-most in the league.
Also, the offense has become a little predictable, with their ‘throw it to Cooper Kupp’ ploy beginning to catch on with defenses, especially with minimal other offensive weapons for them to worry about.
Following on from his extraordinary 1,947-yard and 16-TD year in 2021, Kupp has 35 per cent of all the Rams’ receptions this season, 38.6 per cent of the receiving yards and a staggering 71.4 of their receiving TDs (five, with the rest of the team combined tallying only two). Opposition teams know that if they stop Kupp, they essentially stop the Rams.
And not helping L.A. is the fact that Kupp is now nursing a slight ankle injury after an awkward tackle in last week’s defeat to the 49ers. He is fit enough to go on Sunday, but it is symptomatic of the problems that have plagued both the Rams and the Bucs all season.
“Here we are with two wounded giants this season,” Reynolds said of this Sunday’s game live on Sky Sports.
“I don’t want to say it’s ‘must win’ because the teams in their respective divisions also aren’t running away with things – there’s plenty of time still to turn it around, but they must soon!”
Things will look a lot rosier for the winner come Sunday evening, but there can be only one. For the other, the gloom currently enveloping these NFL juggernauts will only deepen. It sets up for a truly fascinating contest.
Watch Los Angeles Rams @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sky Sports NFL as part of the Sunday night triple-header of live action which gets under way from 5pm; kick-off in Tampa is at 9.25pm