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Rams beat Tom Brady and Bucs to signal their Super Bowl aspirations

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Rams running back Sony Michel carries the ball during the fourth quarter of a 34-24 victory.
Rams running back Sony Michel carries the ball during the fourth quarter of a 34-24 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

In their first big test with prized offseason acquisition Matthew Stafford under center, the Rams defeated Tom Brady and the Buccaneers 34-24 on Sunday.

Rams look like Super Bowl team in beating Tom Brady and defending champion Buccaneers

It’s only three games, not even a quarter of what will be the longest NFL season in history. So it’s entirely too early to project the Rams into the playoffs, let alone a Super Bowl that will be played at SoFi Stadium.

But the Rams look the part of a Super Bowl team.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford fires quick-strike touchdown passes. He engineers methodical, clock-eating scoring drives. Coach Sean McVay, for the first time since the 2018 Super Bowl season, finally appears comfortable using the entire playbook.

Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey lead a defense playing as stout under Raheem Morris as it did a year ago under Brandon Staley.

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Rams make a statement in 34-24 win over defending Super Bowl champs

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates with Coper Kupp after connecting on a touchdown pass.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates with Coper Kupp after connecting on a touchdown pass with the wide receiver during the Rams’ 34-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Rams remain unbeaten following their decisive 34-24 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.

Matthew Stafford completed 27 of 38 passes for 343 yards and four touchdowns. DeSean Jackson racked up 120 receiving yards and a touchdown on three catches. Cooper Kupp had nine catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Sony Michel led all rushers with 67 yards on 20 carries.

The Rams sacked Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady three times. The seven-time Super Bowl winner completed 41 of 55 passes for 432 yards and a touchdown as the Buccaneers fell to 2-1. The Rams are 3-0 heading into their Week 4 contest against the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 3.

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Tampa Bay scores a touchdown to make it 34-24 Rams late in the fourth quarter

Tom Brady connected on a seven-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Giovani Bernard to make it 34-23 Rams with 1:10 remaining in regulation.

Bernard was injured on the play, but managed to walk under his own power off the field. The touchdown was the result of a 14-play, 88-yard drive orchestrated by Brady that took 3:40 off the clock.

The Rams recovered the ensuing onside kick.

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Another Matt Gay field goal extends the Rams’ lead

Rams 34, Buccaneers 17 — 8:14 left in the game

The Rams began to methodically cut into the Buccaneers’ ability to come back with a 13-play, 67-yard drive that ended with a 26-yard field goal by Matt Gay. Running back Sony Michel carried four times and he also caught a pass during the drive.

Matthew Stafford completed third-down passes to Van Jefferson and Cooper Kupp during the drive.

Kupp has nine catches for 96 yards.

Stafford has completed 27 of 38 passes for 343 yards.

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Buccaneers held to field goal after fast-moving drive

Rams 31, Buccaneers 17 — End of the third quarter

Ryan Succop kicked a 26-yard field goal with 1:14 left in the third quarter, trimming the Rams’ lead to 14 points.

Tom Brady led an eight-play, 67-yard drive that included a 31-yard pass to receiver Tyler Johnson that advanced the ball to the eight-yard line.

But three Brady passes fell incomplete, forcing the Buccaneers to settle for the field goal.

Brady has completed 28 of 38 passes for 322 yards.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is 22 of 33 for 303 yards and four touchdowns.

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Matt Gay’s 48-yard field goal gives Rams 31-14 lead

Rams 31, Buccaneers 14 — 3:09 left in the third quarter

Matt Gay kicked a 48-yard field goal, increasing the lead to 17 points.

The Rams were in position to score after Rams linebacker Kenny Young sacked Tom Brady, and Bradley Pinon shanked a punt that gave the Rams the ball at the Buccaneers 37-yard line

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Matthew Stafford, DeSean Jackson and Cooper Kupp getting it done

Rams 28, Buccaneers 14 — 7:23 left in the third quarter

Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp connected for their second touchdown of the game, pushing the lead back to 14 points.

DeSean Jackson set up the 10-yard touchdown with a 40-yard catch-and run.

Stafford has completed 21 of 31 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns.

Jackson has three catches for 120 yards and a touchdown.

Kupp has five catches for 65 yards and two touchdowns.

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Tom Brady scores touchdown; Rob Gronkowski injured on drive

Rams 21, Buccaneers 14 — 9:57 left in the third quarter

Tom Brady scored on a one-yard sneak to pull the Buccaneers to within seven points.

Brady led a 75-yard, nine-play drive that included completions to receiver Mike Evans and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate.

Gronkowski was helped off the field by trainers after he was hit by linebacker Terrell Lewis with 11:16 left in the quarter.

Brady has completed 23 of 29 passes for 248 yards.

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DeSean Jackson scores his first touchdown as a Ram

Rams 21, Buccaneers 7, 14:02 left in the third quarter

The Rams signed DeSean Jackson to provide a deep threat, but up until Sunday Rams fans had not seen it.

Last Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, Jackson was in for only three plays and was not targeted.

On Sunday, quarterback Matthew Stafford underthrew a long pass to Jackson in the first half and the Buccaneers were called for penalty away from the play on another.

But less than a minute into the third quarter, Stafford lofted a pass to a wide-open Jackson for a 75-yard touchdown.

Stafford has passed for three touchdowns today, and has eight on the season.

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Aaron Donald sacks Tom Brady to stop Bucs drive in its tracks

Halftime: Rams 14, Buccaneers 7

Aaron Donald had no tackles, no sacks and no quarterback hits in last season’s loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But he sacked Tom Brady for the first time late in the second quarter Sunday to hold off the Buccaneers, who were forced to try a 55-yard field-goal that missed wide right as time expired in the first half.

Brady was driving the Buccaneers toward a potential tying touchdown when Donald stripped the ball. It was Donald’s first career sack against Brady. The three-time NFL defensive player of the year has 87 ½ sacks.

Matthew Stafford has passed for two touchdowns to give the Rams the lead over the defending Super Bowl champions.

Stafford connected with tight end Tyler Higbee for a six-yard touchdown, and with receiver Cooper Kupp for a two-yard touchdown.

Stafford has completed 15 of 22 passes for 148 yards.

Kupp has four catches for 55 yards, Higbee five catches for 40 yards.

Sony Michel has rushed for 22 yards in nine carries and has two receptions for eight yards.

Brady has completed 17 of 22 passes for 172 yards.

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Matthew Stafford finds Cooper Kupp for a touchdown

Rams 14, Buccaneers 7: 51 seconds left in the second quarter

Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp are connecting again.

Kupp caught a two-yard touchdown pass with 51 seconds left in the second quarter to put the Rams back in the lead.

Stafford had completed a 22-yard pass to Kupp on the previous play to set up the touchdown.

The Rams scored on a 10-play, 75-yard drive.

Stafford also had key completions to tight end Tyler Higbee and receiver Van Jefferson.

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Tom Brady and Buccaneers score off long TD drive

Rams 7, Buccaneers 7, 4:03 left in second quarter

Tom Brady answered for the Buccaneers.

Brady led a 15-play, 76-yard scoring drive that ended with receiver Chris Godwin’s two-yard run for a touchdown.

Brady completed third-down passes to running back Giovanni Bernard and Godwin and also connected with receiver Mike Evans for 17 yards and tight end Rob Gronkowski for 26.

Brady has completed 14 of 18 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown.

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Matthew Stafford connects with Tyler Higbee to put Rams on the board

Rams 7, Buccaneers 0, 12:22 left in second quarter

Matthew Stafford connected with tight end Tyler Higbee for a six-yard touchdown pass to give the Rams the lead.

After a slow start, the Rams’ passing game began to click.

Stafford drove the Rams 95 yards in 14 plays, completing passes to Higbee, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Van Jefferson and running back Sony Michel.

Stafford has completed nine of 14 passes for 81 yards. He has passed for six touchdowns this season.

Michel has 20 yards in seven carries.

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Rams driving as scoreless first quarter comes to a close

End of first quarter: Rams 0, Buccaneers 0

The Rams were driving to end the quarter and will start the second quarter with a second and eight at the Buccaneers’ 24-yard line.

Matthew Stafford appears to be finding his rhythm. He has completed his last five passes, including completions of more than 12 yards to tight end Tyler Higbee, receiver Cooper Kupp and receiver Van Jefferson.

Stafford has completed six of 11 passes for 63 yards.

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Rams and Buccaneers still scoreless late in the first quarter

Rams 0, Buccaneers 0, 5:27 left in the first quarter

Slow starts for both offenses.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford has completed only one of six passes for seven yards. Several passes skipped off receivers hands or were dropped. Stafford underthrew a long pass to DeSean Jackson.

Tom Brady has completed six of nine passes for 50 yards.

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Rams’ Jalen Ramsey plays it cool about facing Tom Brady and the Buccaneers

Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey lines up against the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 19.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

Don’t expect Jalen Ramsey to get overly amped about playing against Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

Ramsey, star cornerback for the Rams, has utmost respect for Brady — “the greatest to play the game,” he said — but the two-time All-Pro said he takes every opponent seriously and does not place more importance on one game over another.

“It’s definitely cool though,” he said of matching up against Brady. “It’s something cool to like be playing against somebody who you believe is the greatest to ever do it.”

The game between the unbeaten teams could be a preview of an NFC playoff game in January.

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Rams’ DeSean Jackson, Sony Michel ready to step into fast lane against Buccaneers

Rams wide receiver DeSean Jackson holds onto a football.
Rams wide receiver DeSean Jackson hopes to get his hands on the football Sunday against Tampa Bay.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Rams running back Sony Michel is on track for a big opportunity Sunday against the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Will receiver DeSean Jackson finally enjoy a similar profile?

Those situations continued to evolve for coach Sean McVay on Thursday as his team prepared for Sunday’s game at SoFi Stadium.

With Darrell Henderson out for the second consecutive day because of a rib injury, Michel almost certainly will start for the Rams for the first time. Michel, acquired in a late-August trade with the New England Patriots, rushed for 46 yards in 10 carries during the decisive fourth quarter of a 27-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday.

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Matt Cassel Q&A: Stories from Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford’s former backup

Detroit Lions quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Matt Cassel walk together.
Detroit Lions quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, left, and Matt Cassel walk together to the field before a game against the Minnesota Vikings in 2018.
(Rey Del Rio / Associated Press)

Former USC quarterback Matt Cassel played 14 seasons in the NFL, including four with the New England Patriots as Tom Brady’s backup and one with the Detroit Lions as Matthew Stafford’s backup. With Stafford and the Rams playing Brady and the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at SoFi Stadium, Times reporter Gary Klein spoke with Cassel — now an analyst for NBC Sports Boston — about the star quarterbacks.

This interview was edited for length and clarity:

You played with Brady at the start of your career in 2005-08 and with Stafford late in your career in 2018. How are Brady and Stafford alike?

There are so many similarities in their approach, their high football IQ, their processing — and they’re both great leaders. They’re meticulous in how they go about their preparation. I was with Brady and I saw all the film that he’d watch and the questions and all that. When I was in Detroit I had not been around Stafford as much. But Stafford’s got, like, one of those photographic memories where he can watch film and he could just recite, ‘Hey, go to play 21 right there. I want to look at the defense that I watched last night.’ And I’m like, play 21? How the hell do you remember play 21 in this game?” Brady is very similar in terms of his memory. He can remember plays from years ago. ‘I remember when they did this.’ Both of them have seen so much football, and that’s the wealth of knowledge that comes with starting and playing early in your career. They have recollection of games, plays and also individuals on the opposite side of the ball. They know exactly who they’re going up against. They can tell you their numbers, everything about them. They can see a player one time and be able to compartmentalize that, put in in their brain so the next time they go up against that same opponent, they know the strengths, weaknesses or are familiar with how to attack a particular player. They have an incredible ability to watch film, understand it, digest and apply it. Not only that but the ability to process a defense, to go in and see something one time and make a quick change or adapt to what they’re doing. They also stay on the field. I mean both of these guys are two of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around at the position.

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Rams and Bucs players take the field at SoFi Stadium

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford looks to pass against the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 19.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

Players from the Rams and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on the field at SoFi Stadium for early warmups before today’s game.

It’s a marquee matchup and a possible preview of an NFC playoff game.

Both teams are regarded as contenders to win the NFC and play in the Super Bowl. The Buccaneers last season became the first team to win a Super Bowl in its home stadium. The Rams are trying to become the second.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford aims to repeat what Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady did last season — win a Super Bowl in his first season with a new team.

Two weeks ago, Stafford thrilled the crowd in his Rams debut, passing for three touchdowns — including two long ones. Last Sunday, he led a trademark game-winning drive on the road against the Indianapolis Colts.

Brady, playing in his first game in Los Angeles, has passed for nine touchdowns, with two interceptions, and leads an offense that is scoring an NFL-best 39.5 points a game.

Sony Michel is expected to start at running back for the Rams in place of the injured Darrell Henderson. Rams coach Sean McVay said he will get receiver DeSean Jackson more involved. Jackson, long one of the NFL’s best deep threats, lined up for only three plays and was not targeted against the Colts.

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For the Rams, the Buccaneers are just another team to beat

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp, right, eludes a tackle by Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr.
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp, right, eludes a tackle by Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. during a game on Nov. 23, 2020.
(Mark LoMoglio / Associated Press)

They are defending Super Bowl champions, and among the favorites to play again in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in February.

Their quarterback, if he ever retires, is bound for the Hall of Fame.

Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 2-0 and looking like a team that could become the first to win back-to-back NFL championships since the ageless Brady led the New England Patriots to titles in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

But don’t suggest to the unbeaten Rams that Sunday’s showdown is a measuring-stick game for a team with designs on following the Buccaneers as the second to win a Super Bowl in its home stadium.

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Rams vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: NFL betting picks, odds and analysis

The betting outlook for Sunday’s game between the Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

So far, so good in the Matthew Stafford era. The Rams are 2-0, though they did fail to cover against the Indianapolis Colts. The line was -3 or -3.5 and the Rams won 27-24 in a game in which they trailed in for only 2 minutes 9 seconds. The Colts took a 21-17 lead in the first minute of the fourth quarter. The Rams marched right downfield and then won on Matt Gay’s 38-yard field goal with 2:23 left.

It was a win for the Rams, but the loss of running back Darrell Henderson Jr. put a damper on things. Henderson is unlikely to play this week, which means that Stafford will be plenty busy with a limited running game.

That looks to be a concern for the Rams. Last week, they at least gave the illusion of trying to run and had 101 yards in 29 carries. Stafford threw 30 times, with nine receptions on 11 targets from Cooper Kupp. Kupp is the only player Stafford has targeted at least nine times. The Rams are fifth in the NFL in yards per play but have only run 110 plays to this point.

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Rams vs. Buccaneers matchups: Matthew Stafford looks to extend impressive start

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford throws against the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 19.
(Zach Bolinger / Associated Press)

Breaking down how the Rams (2-0) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0) match up heading into their game at 1:25 p.m. Pacific time Sunday at SoFi Stadium. The game will be carried on Fox (Channel 11).

When Rams have the ball: Quarterback Matthew Stafford aims to continue his impressive start after leading the Rams to a rout over the Chicago Bears and engineering a game-winning field-goal drive against the Indianapolis Colts. Stafford has connected on long, mid-range and short passes for five touchdowns. Receiver Cooper Kupp has had more than 100 yards receiving in each game. Look for Stafford to continue going to Kupp, Robert Woods and Van Jefferson — and whether coach Sean McVay makes good on his proclamation to get DeSean Jackson more involved. Running back Darrell Henderson is nursing a rib injury, and McVay has said that he would be a game-time decision. Henderson did not practice this week, however, so Sony Michel almost certainly will start for the first time, with rookie Jake Funk serving as the backup. The Buccaneers’ front features linemen Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea and William Gholston and linebackers Lavonte David, Devin White and Shaquil Barrett. Linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul is out because of hand and shoulder injuries. The Buccaneers rank near the bottom of the NFL in pass defense, but that’s partly because other teams can’t keep pace with the league’s highest-scoring offense.

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