NFL: Buccaneers hosting Rams in surprising battle of mediocrity


Two of the most surprising developments of the NFL season are the mediocrity of both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Rams. Neither team thought they’d be below .500 entering Week 9 — and neither team made a noteworthy move at this week’s trade deadline.

The past two Super Bowl champions will compete for a much-needed win on Sunday in Tampa, Fla.

The Rams (3-4) have lost three of their last four games, including a season sweep at the hands of the rival San Francisco 49ers. They were outscored 21-0 in the second half of last week’s 31-14 home loss to San Francisco.

“They made some big plays that they were able to capitalize on, scoring opportunities, and then there was a couple instances where we had chances to be able to make plays and didn’t quite deliver,” coach Sean McVay said. “That’s where things get out of whack and you don’t end up finishing the game the way that you want.”

Multiple reports said the Rams attempted to land Carolina Panthers edge rusher Brian Burns at the trade deadline by offering multiple first-round picks, but were rebuffed.

The defending champs can still rely on a fearsome defense without Burns — the Aaron Donald-anchored unit ranks fifth in yards allowed per game. But the Rams are fifth from the bottom in the NFL in scoring offense at just 16.9 ppg. Matthew Stafford has thrown eight interceptions, tied for second-most in the league, to just seven touchdowns.

Still, Los Angeles catches Tom Brady and the Buccaneers (3-5) at an opportune time.

Tampa Bay is 1-5 in the past six games, including losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers, two of the weakest teams in the league. The Bucs have had extra time to regroup after playing on “Thursday Night Football” last week, when their comeback effort fell short in a 27-22 home loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Though Brady has a 9:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and leads the NFL in completions (224) and pass attempts (340), he’s averaged a substandard 6.7 yards per attempt and the offense is tied for 25th in third-down efficiency (34.6 percent).

Brady and Stafford aren’t getting any help from their respective running games, the least productive in the league. Tampa Bay (61.9 yards per game) ranks dead last; Los Angeles (68.4 ypg) is 31st.

Bucs coach Todd Bowles alluded to the notion that his team wants more balance on offense.

“You’d like to say that, but if they’ve got nine guys up there, you’re going to have to throw the football,” Bowles said. “We’re going to take what they give us, but we’re definitely going to try to run it more.”

For the Rams, disgruntled running back Cam Akers hasn’t played since Week 5 as the team worked to try to find a trade partner who’d take him. None materialized before the deadline, and on Wednesday McVay said Akers expressed a desire to remain with the team.

There’s a chance he could play Sunday — and just as much of a chance that the Rams release him.

“We’ve talked about a couple of different options,” McVay said. “Wanted to be able to give him an opportunity to weigh that with his family and with his representation, and then we’ll circle back later on this afternoon and see what the next move is.”

The Rams also could get rookie running back Kyren Williams (ankle) back soon after he returned to practice last week.

Star wide receiver Cooper Kupp (ankle) missed Wednesday’s practice, but McVay has indicated the injury is not serious and he should be able to play against the Bucs. Center Brian Allen (knee) also sat out while receiver Van Jefferson (knee) was limited.

Tampa Bay’s interior offensive line is banged up and could be tested again this week, as guards Luke Goedeke (foot) and Shaq Mason (personal, ankle) did not practice Wednesday. Wide receivers Russell Gage (hamstring) and Julio Jones (knee) and cornerback Antoine Winfield Jr. (concussion) were also DNPs, while receiver Mike Evans (ankle) and tight end Cameron Brate (neck) were limited participants.

–Field Level Media

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