Rams beat Bucs in what may be their last game in St. Louis
ST. LOUIS — If this was the Rams’ last game in St. Louis, they did what they could to leave the fans smiling.
"I can’t really determine what’s going to happen, what’s not going to happen," defensive end William Hayes said after the Rams started fast and beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-23 in their home finale on Thursday night.
"The one thing I can say is it was pretty awesome for the support they gave us."
The Rams rolled in what might have been their final home game before a possible move to Los Angeles.
Quarterback Case Keenum certainly played inspired. He was 14 of 17 for 234 yards and two touchdowns with a near-perfect passer rating of 158.
"Obviously, the fans were incredible — chanting and yelling and being loud when the defense needed them to be loud," Keenum said. "I think it was a great atmosphere and I think it was a great atmosphere for the nation to watch and see."
The Edward Jones Dome has been about half-filled most of the season, and the finale wasn’t much better. The team announced 51,295 tickets had been distributed for the 66,000-capacity dome.
But those who showed up were into it.
Fans chanted "Keep Our Rams!" and carried signs, one of them reading "We Don’t Need Kroenke, We Just Want our Rams."
Owner Stan Kroenke, who wants to move the Rams (6-8) to Los Angeles, attended the finale but kept a low profile.
Several stars from the 1999 Super Bowl championship team attended the game, including Orlando Pace, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, plus Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk from the NFL Network. At halftime, Warner took off his sports jacket and tossed a pass to Bruce, who made the catch as he was running along the home team’s sideline and jogged into the end zone.
As for the actual game, here are some reasons why the Rams beat the Buccaneers:
OFFENSIVE SURGE: St. Louis has won two straight with a notable spike in production under new coordinator Rob Boras.
Tavon Austin scored twice, Todd Gurley topped 1,000 yards rushing for the season and Keenum threw both touchdown passes in the first quarter. The 31st-ranked offense rolled to a 21-3 halftime lead.
"We come pumped up every game, not just in case it might be our last game here," Austin said. "We’re going to come in and play our game and handle our business."
BIG PLAYMAKERS: Todd Gurley needed 25 yards to become the first Rams rookie to rush for 1,000 yards since Jerome Bettis. He didn’t get it by much, gaining 48 yards on 21 carries.
Austin is the first player since Gale Sayers in 1965 to score at least four rushing touchdowns, five receiving touchdowns and one touchdown on a punt return in a season. He leads the Rams with 10 total TDs.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE: Up 31-13, the Rams became conservative, and Jameis Winston took advantage with two touchdown passes in a big fourth quarter. He had just 125 yards passing the first three quarters but finished with a career-best 363, his first 300-yard effort, for Tampa Bay (6-8).
The halftime deficit was the Buccaneers’ largest since they were down 35-7 against Tennessee in their opening 42-14 loss. So, Tampa Bay’s total output of 509 yards rang hollow.
"We didn’t see a whole lot to be excited about," coach Lovie Smith said. "On the road to becoming a championship team, you have to keep building, and again we are not there yet."
BIG RETURNS: Benny Cunningham had a 102-yard kickoff return to the 3 in the fourth quarter, setting up a field goal. The backup running back wasn’t happy about getting caught.
"I’m starting to realize I’m maybe a little too big for this kickoff thing," Cunningham joked.
Cunningham also opened the game with a 44-yard return to set up the opening touchdown, Austin’s 17-yard scoring reception on a quick screen.
MAGIC MIKE: Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans had nine catches for 157 yards and has topped 1,000 yards both of his seasons. He has five 100-yard games and is trying to keep his chin up after Tampa Bay’s second loss in five days.
"Our chances plummeted but we’re going to keep fighting," Evans said. "We’ve tripled our win total of last year and we want to quadruple it when we get these last two wins."