NFL Old School Game of the Week: Rams Rally Against Buccaneers
The promo above was about as exciting as many NFL fans felt when the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, two perennial losers in the early 1990s, got together for a Sunday night matchup in December of 1992.
However, the game would go down as one of the more memorable games in LA Rams history.
Both teams entered the contest with not so stellar records as the Buccaneers stood at 4-8 under, having lost seven of their previous eight games in the first season under former Cincinnati Bengals head coach Sam Wyche, who was trying to change the franchise’s fortunes around as the team had had nine consecutive losing seasons entering 1992 and were on the verge of another one.
The Rams also entered the contest with a 4-8 record, as they were led by head coach Chuck Knox, who was in the first year of his second stint in Los Angeles, where he had gone 57-20-1 and won five straight NFC West titles from 1973-77.
That run was marked by Knox’s famous “Ground Chuck” game, mostly relying on the run game, but this time Knox inherited a strong passing attack with quarterback Jim Everett, who was one of the most prolific passers in the NFL at that time.
If the Rams were to win this game, their hopes would ride on the right arm of Everett.
Tampa Bay got the ball to start the game and drove 64 yards in 13 plays, leading to a 34-yard field goal by Eddie Murray to put the Bucs up 3-0.
The Rams started their opening possession of the game at their own 35-yard-line, but gave the ball right back to the Bucs when Cleveland Gary fumbled the ball on the first play from scrimmage which was recovered by Tampa Bay defensive end Mark Duckens.
However, the Rams defense did not allow a 1st down and the Bucs were forced to settle for another field goal, which Murray made from 47 yards out, to make it 6-0 in favor of Tampa Bay.
The score was still 6--0 early in the 2nd quarter as the Bucs had the ball at their own 19-yard-line, when quarterback Vinny Testaverde fired a pass toward the middle intended for rookie tight end Tyji Armstrong, who made the catch around midfield, then broke the tackles of LA safeties Pat Terrell and Anthony Newman at the Rams’ 40-yard-line, and then raced in for his first career NFL touchdown, a 81-yard reception to make it a 13-0 game, 58 seconds into the second quarter.
The Rams were set to get the ball back but on the ensuing kickoff David Lang fumbled the football when he was hit by the Bucs’ Corey Mayfield, which was picked up by teammate Roger Jones and returned 26 yards for Tampa Bay’s second touchdown in 13 seconds, to increase their lead to 20-0.
After having only collected one 1st down on its first 3 possessions, the Rams offense finally got moving on the drive following the two touchdowns in 13 seconds, thanks to two big pass plays, a 25-yard completion to tight end Jerry Price on a 3rd-and-8 at the LA 45, and a 24-yarder to Travis McNeal giving Los Angeles a 1st-and-goal at the Tampa Bay five-yard-line.
After Gary lost two yards on 1st down, Everett found Jeff Chadwick in the end zone for an apparent seven-yard touchdown only to have called back because of an illegal motion penalty, pushing LA back to the 17-yard-line.
The Rams got back to the one-yard-line but had to settle for a 18-yard field by Tony Zendejas to cut the Bucs’ lead to 20-3 halfway through the second quarter.
The Bucs responded with a 12-play, 92-yard drive that culminated with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Testaverde to Mark Carrier to push Tampa Bay’s lead to 24 points, 27-3 with 1:45 left in the first half.
LA took over at its own 26-yard-line and drove drive to the Tampa Bay 20-yard-line as Everett completed five of six passes for 54 yards, only to have his next three passes fall incomplete, forcing a field goal attempt by Zendejas from 37 yards out.
But Zendejas’ kick was blocked by George McRae keeping the score at 27-3 as the first half came to a close.
Even though there was 30 minutes left in the game, it seemed like that the game was over as a team had come back from a deficit as large as 24 points to win a NFL game only 12 times up to that point in NFL history.
If the Rams were to come back, they would need a touchdown on their opening possession of the second half and quickly.
That’s exactly what they got as they took the opening kickoff and drove 70 yards in six plays in just 1:55, ending with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Everett to Flipper Anderson to cut the Bucs’ lead to 27-10.
Tampa Bay took over at its own 35-yard-line but gave the ball right back to the Rams when Anthony McDowell fumbled the ball after catching a Testaverde pass, as he was stripped of the ball by LA linebacker Larry Kelm with fellow linebacker Kevin Greene recovering the loose ball at the Bucs’ 41-yard-line.
Four plays later, the Rams were back in the end zone as Everett connected with Chadwick on a touchdown that counted this time, a 27-yarder that trimmed the deficit to 10 points, 27-17 with 11:20 left in the third quarter.
It only got worse for the Bucs on their next drive as Testaverde was picked off by Rams cornerback Todd Lyght, who returned it 39 yards to the Tampa Bay 12-yard-line, setting up a one-yard touchdown run by David Lang for the Rams’ third touchdown in 7:41, to cut the once insurmountable 24-point lead to just three points at 27-24.
It appeared the Rams on the verge of scoring their fourth straight touchdown when they forced a three-and-out and got the ball back in Bucs territory at the Tampa Bay 47-yard-line.
But on 3rd-and-5 from the 42-yard-line, Everett found Robert Delpino for a 12-yard completion, only to have Delpino fumble the ball when he is hit by Bucs free safety Darrell Fullington, which is recovered by cornerback Ricky Reynolds at the 23-yard-line.
The score was still 27-24 in the 4th quarter when the Rams put together a 12-play, 69-yard drive that took up 6 ½ minutes and ended with a 8-yard touchdown pass from Everett to tight end Pat Carter to give LA its first lead of the game, 31-27 with 5:40 to go in the game.
The Bucs got the ball back at their own 35-yard-line and were able to drive to the LA 37-yard-line, thanks to a pair of completions by Testaverde, one to Lawrence Dawsey for 15 yards and another to Carrier for 16 yards.
However, the drive began to stall as a three-yard-run by Reggie Cobb, followed by an incomplete pass, and then a loss of one yard by McDowell, set up a 4th-and-8 at the 35-yard-line at the two-minute warning.
That is when Testaverde dropped back and fired a pass intended for Carrier, only to be intercepted by Rams cornerback Darryl Henley, giving LA the ball at their 25-yard-line with 1:52 left.
Still, the Rams needed a 1st down to secure the victory as the Bucs had all three timeouts in their pocket.
After Gary only gained two yards on two straight runs, the Rams were faced with 3rd-and-8 when Knox gambled and called for Everett to pass as he rolled out to his right, after faking a handoff to Gary, and found McNeal for a 38-yard gain that put the game away and completing the greatest comeback in Rams history as Los Angeles came away with the 31-27 victory.
The loss secured the Bucs’ 10th consecutive losing season as they would finish the season with a 5-11 record while the Rams would finish the season with a 6-10 record.
Both teams remained at the bottom of the league until toward the later part of the 1990s when Tony Dungy came to Tampa Bay and Dick Vermeil come back from a long absence to coach the Rams who had moved to St. Louis.
Ironically in the final year of the decade, the Rams would go 13-3 while Tampa went 11-5 as the two teams would meet for the NFC championship that season with the Rams coming out on top 11-6.