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Rams

Rams withstand Buccaneers and lightning delay for 37-32 win

Rams withstand Buccaneers and lightning delay for 37-32 win
Rams defenders tackle Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate during third quarter action at Raymond James Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Music filled the locker room and players stretched or had a bite to eat while coaches strategized before delivering instructions.

It was not much different than any pregame or halftime scene, except  here were two minutes left on the game clock at Raymond James Stadium and the Rams were backed up deep in their territory while clinging to a five-point lead.

After a 70-minute delay because of lightning, the Rams returned to the field on Sunday and weathered a last-second threat from Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston to secure a 37-32 victory.

It was not over until defensive end Robert Quinn chased down Winston as time expired, leaving the Rams in first place in the NFC West and with a winning record after three games for the first time in 10 years.

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“Luckily,” Quinn said, “we had enough in our tank to do what we had to do.”

Just as it did in the previous week’s victory over the Seattle Seahawks, the Rams defense came up with a clutch play at the end.

The Rams defeated the Buccaneers, 37-32, Sunday in Tampa. Sam Farmer, Gary Klein, Mike DiGiovanna and Lindsey Thiry break down the victory. 

And the offense, for the first time, also made significant contributions.

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Quarterback Case Keenum passed for two touchdowns, Todd Gurley ran for two and defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks returned a fumble 77 yards for a touchdown as the Rams improved to 2-1 heading into next week’s division game at 1-2 Arizona.

It was marked improvement for a team that entered Week 3 as the only NFL team without a touchdown.

“It was great to get the ball in the end zone,” Coach Jeff Fisher said. “Finally.”

Fisher had taken a light approach during the week, gathering offensive players in the end zone to remind them what it felt like. He also showed them clips from last season’s victory over the Buccaneers that he said he discovered in a box “full of touchdowns.”

The Rams wasted no time Sunday, scoring on their first possession on Keenum’s 44-yard  touchdown pass to Brian Quick.

Keenum had a pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown on the next series, but he did not commit another turnover in his most productive performance of the season.

“Those guys up front were doing a good job … and kind of getting settled in that groove,” said Keenum, who completed 14 of 26 passes for 190 yards. “I think we hit that in the third quarter as well and put together some drives when we needed to.”

The Rams overcame a 20-10 halftime deficit to win on a day when temperatures climbed above 90 degrees with accompanying humidity.

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Gurley did not break free for a run longer than 16 yards, but he asserted himself during the fourth quarter and finished with 85 yards in 27 carries.

Gurley’s second touchdown late in the third quarter gave the Rams a 24-20 lead.

On the ensuing series, Quinn sacked Winston and forced a fumble. The 6-foot-4, 267-pound Westbrooks scooped up the ball and outran the Buccaneers to the end zone.

“At about the 40 or 50, I was definitely like, ‘Man, I’m not there yet? How much longer do I have to go?’” Westbrooks said. “I was looking up at the big screen thinking, ‘Don’t let that guy catch me!’”

Winston cut the deficit with a touchdown pass, but Keenum appeared to seal the victory with a touchdown pass to Tavon Austin with just over four minutes left.

Winston then connected with receiver Mike Evans for a touchdown, giving the Buccaneers one last chance to force a turnover.

Austin’s ill-advised decision to return the ensuing kick-off forced the Rams to take possession at their six-yard line. They were facing third-and-11 at the five when the game was delayed.

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 “To have that crucial of a moment being paused, it was tough,” Keenum said.

Said Fisher: “We heard rumors that it may be 15 minutes, 60 minutes or it may be an hour and a half.”

Keenum and receiver Kenny Britt said the play-call for when they returned was changed several times in the locker room. Finally they settled on a sideline pass to Britt, who said he was hoping to either catch the ball or draw an interference penalty. Instead the ball dropped incomplete.

Punter Johnny Hekker boomed a 64-yard kick that forced Winston to start at the Tampa 44, and the second-year pro coolly drove the Buccaneers to the Rams 15, setting the stage for Quinn’s game-saving play.

With four seconds left, Winston took the snap, dropped back, scrambled a bit and then appeared to have a path to the end zone.

But he continued looking for a receiver.

“I got up field, came back, thought he was gonna take off running for TD,” Quinn said. “I saw him pull up and look to end zone.

“I gave every last bit of effort I had to try to get to him.”

Quinn tackled Winston from behind at the four to end the game.

“I wish I had eyes in the back of my head,” Winston said, “so I could’ve seen him.”

Now the Rams can look forward to another road game, though one closer to home.

And they will have a view from first place.

“We love having a winning record but we have to build on that,” Quinn said, adding, “We would love to blow out every team, but we know it’s not gonna be that way.”

gary.klein@latimes.com


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