View Original Notice ? Whicker: A day of love and blood and maybe Tom Brady’s final sunset
The Rams were there 20 years ago, when Tom Brady said hello at his first Super Bowl. They were there Sunday, with a 30-27 Divisional Playoff win, to say hello back.
As the 78 rpm events of the fourth quarter whirred through his head, Brady wasn’t ready to say if this was goodbye, either way.
“Truthfully I’m thinking about this game and not anything that’s five minutes ahead,” Brady said. “I haven’t put a lot of thought into it. I’ll take it day to day to see where I’m at.”
If football’s indignities and contusions were ever going to chase Brady out of the building, this would be the time.
Before the Rams went into Mr. Bean mode and proved the perishability of a 24-point lead in an NFL playoff game, they were deep under Brady’s skin.
He drew an unsportsmanlike penalty when Von Miller bloodied his lip. Miller, Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd led a charge that sacked Brady three times and decked him six times.
Tampa Bay’s abandonment of the running game didn’t help. “They made us one-dimensional,” Brady said, when actually his coaches did.
The Bucs were mostly awful for most of this game, with two out-of-bounds kickoffs, a missed field goal, damaging penalties, a 3-for-14 mark on third downs, and defensive backs that apparently had never met.
Cooper Kupp’s 70-yard touchdown catch, on third-and-20, was the game-tilting play for a long time.
And what if Nick Scott, a 7th-round pick in 2019, goes into the books as the final man to intercept a pass from Brady? It wouldn’t be as outlandish as Herb Scott, the Cowboys’ guard who caught Roger Staubach’s final pass in a playoff loss to the Rams, but close.
“This ain’t going to be the end of Tom Brady,” Miller said. “He will dust himself off and be ready to go. The only reason to root against him is that he wins.”
But this was Brady’s third consecutive loss to the Rams in the space of 14 months.
Even when New England beat the Rams in the Super Bowl, Brady had a drab 71.4 QB rating and went 3-for-12 on third down.
In Week 11 of the 2020 season, Tampa Bay lost to the Rams at home, 27-24, and Brady’s rating was 62.5. He needed 48 throws to get 216 net yards.
In Week 3 of this season, Tampa Bay lost to the Rams, 34-24, in SoFi Stadium and Brady went 41-for-55 for 432 yards. The Rams still held him to one touchdown and sacked him three times.
On Sunday Brady was 30-for-54 with 329 yards with one TD, one interception, and a 72.2 rate.
But he did hit Mike Evans for 55 yards with 3:27 left, to get Tampa Bay to within 27-20. When Cam Akers lost his second fumble, Fournette scored from 9 yards to tie it with :46 left.
Suddenly this resembled the worst choke job in Southern California sports history, or since David Henderson went dancing around the basepaths.
But then Kupp brought home the win, or at least teed it up for kicker Matt Gay, in a burst of irony that probably escaped Brady.
What Kupp ran was a route that is known as “love of the game.”
He pierced the middle of Tampa Bay’s blitzing defense and took it 44 yards to the Tampa Bay 12. All the Rams had to do was line up and get the ball spiked.
Kupp and Stafford explained that when you run your hardest without the hope of a reward, that shows your love of the game.
“He’s the last guy I thought would get it before the ball was snapped,” Stafford said. “But he felt no top shelf coverage, and he figured he better get his eyes back there. He looked up and it was floating.”
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles ordered a blitz, and one cornerback and one linebacker got the message.
“But some guys didn’t,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “It didn’t get communicated.”
Ndamakong Suh, Stafford’s former Detroit teammate who thought Stafford had kicked him after an earlier pileup and protested his way into a flag, charged up the middle and whacked Stafford at impact.
But the key difference between Stafford and Jared Goff is that Stafford punishes pressure, and pressure had a way of punishing Goff.
“You’re just trying to pull other coverage guys away,” Kupp said. “ Truly, what Matthew did was incredible. He knew he was hot, he was staring down the barrel.”
Brady’s love of the game has taken him past his 44th birthday. It is not endless. On Sunday, we also saw that it isn’t his alone.