Takeaways from Rams' playoff win over Buccaneers: Matt Gay gives old team boot again

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TAMPA BAY, FL- JANUARY 23, 2022: Los Angeles Rams kicker Matt Gay (8) greets fans after kicking the game winning field goal to beat the Buccaneers 30-27 in the NFC Divisional game at Raymond James Stadium on January 23, 2022 in Tampa Bay, Florida.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Kicker Matt Gay (8) greets Rams fans in Tampa after kicking the deciding field goal in an NFC divisional playoff game against the Buccaneers. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Rams advanced to the NFC championship game with a 30-27 victory over the defending Super Bowl-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

What we learned from the Rams’ victory:

Kicker Matt Gay knows how to stick it to the Bucs

Gay is growing accustomed to kicking winning field goals against the team that released him after the 2019 season.

In his first game for the Rams in 2020, he kicked a winning field goal to beat the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.

On Sunday, he had made field-goal attempts from 26 and 40 yards before he came on for a 47-yard attempt in the fourth quarter that would have given the Rams a 30-13 lead. Gay’s kick, however, was short.

But Gay did not waste a chance to redeem himself.

His 30-yard field goal as time expired gave the Rams a victory that sent them to the NFC title game.

“Pretty awesome,” coach Sean McVay said. “The last two times he’s been back here, he ends up hitting game-winners.”

The Rams also got several impressive punt returns by Brandon Powell, and Johnny Hekker averaged 42 net yards per punt.

The Rams pass rush is a thing

It took about five games for all of the principals to fully understand how to play off one another, but they showed again that they can disrupt a game.

Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd and Von Miller sacked Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, with Miller’s resulting a fumble.

Those star players, along with linebacker Obo Okoronkwo, linemen A’Shawn Robinson and Greg Gaines and others also harassed Brady into hurrying numerous passes.

Running back Sony Michel was the forgotten man

Michel helped carry the Rams during their five-game winning streak, but his role has diminished significantly in the playoffs as McVay utilizes Cam Akers.

Akers had 17 carries in the Rams wild-card victory over the Arizona Cardinals, and he rushed for 48 yards in 24 carries against the Buccaneers. He lost two fumbles, including one in the fourth quarter that gave the Buccaneers the opportunity to tie the score.

Michel had one carry for four yards.

Unheralded players continue to step up

Tight end Kendall Blanton caught his first touchdown pass, which gave the Rams a 10-0 lead.

Safety Nick Scott intercepted a pass and broke up two others.

With left tackle Andrew Whitworth sidelined because of a knee injury, Joe Noteboom started and helped keep quarterback Matthew Stafford upright.

Receiver Van Jefferson is quietly making a difference

Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. deservedly get most of the attention, but Jefferson once again made valuable contributions.

The second-year pro, who is playing through a shoulder issue, caught two passes for 29 yards. He also rushed for 15 yards on a fly sweep.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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