It seemed that the divisional round matchup Buccaneers vs. The Rams were destined to go into overtime after Tampa Bay mounted a massive comeback in the second half.
The Bucs erased a 27-3 Rams lead to tie the game 27-27 with 42 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Rams only had one timeout left, and after the team burned it down after a 1-yard run from Matthew Stafford, LA was supposed to play overtime.
Instead, coach Sean McVay relied on Stafford to throw two big pitches. The second, a 44-yard bomb to Cooper Kupp, set up a game-winning field goal by Matt Gay that eliminated Tampa Bay from the playoffs.
On the play, Kupp drew one-on-one coverage by a safety up the middle. That was considered odd, as Kupp led the NFL in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns during the regular season. He also fell 17 yards short of breaking Calvin Johnson’s NFL record for receiving yards in a season.
So why did the Buccaneers choose to cover Kupp with one man and a safety, too? Coach Bruce Arians told reporters after the game that the Bucs called for an intense charge but something went wrong.
“Some guys didn’t blitz. I don’t know if they didn’t get the call, but it was a total blitz,” Arians said. “We should have received a lot of pressure.”
All-out blitzes leave receivers in man-to-man coverage, and since the Bucs blitzed the slot, where Kupp was lined up, he was paired with a safety. That’s why Kupp was able to open up so much. And because some defenders may have missed the blitz call, Stafford had plenty of time to find Kupp on the field.
Stafford, for his part, said he identified a presnap blitz, so he was prepared to get rid of the ball quickly.
“I felt it after the snap,” Stafford said during his news conference. “I recognized that it was going to be full pressure and I was able to put him in a good spot. And Coop made a great catch.”
Stafford also noted that once he identified the loadout, he knew Kupp would be his best option even though the receiver path would normally be a decoy.
“You never really get the ball,” Stafford said, calling Kupp’s route a “love of the game” route. “You’re just cleaning up one area, working for other routes. They decided to bring everyone in and that’s really the best option at the time.”
“It felt like it was hanging there forever,” Kupp said. “Matthew did a great job of just buying time, putting the ball up and letting me run under it. I’m not sure how he knew exactly where I was going to end up so quickly, but he did a great job of hitting me slow.” .”
Because of Kupp’s catch and Gay’s subsequent mark, the Rams will host next week’s NFC championship game against their division rival 49ers.
And it’s all thanks to an apparent miscommunication on the part of the Bucs’ defense.