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NFL Preview - Tampa Bay (4-10) at St. Louis (6-8)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - An upset victory last weekend kept the St. Louis Rams' chances of avoiding a seventh straight losing season alive.
The Rams look to get to within a game of .500 this Sunday as they play host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
St. Louis snapped a two-game slide by holding off the New Orleans Saints 27-16 last weekend. The Rams scored 24 of their points in the first half and sacked Saints quarterback Drew Brees four times in total, holding on to the win despite getting outgained 432-302 in the game.
"Everybody contributed and everybody last night felt like we had a chance to win the game," noted Rams head coach Jeff Fisher. "We got a couple early turnovers which really helped us put them in a hole."
Zac Stacy posted 106 of his 133 rushing yards in the first half, a club rookie record, and Kellen Clemens completed 14-of-20 pass attempts. He connected with Cory Harkey and Lance Kendricks for first-quarter touchdowns.
Stacy capped the Rams' first half with a 40-yard touchdown run, but the club was held to just a Greg Zuerlein field goal over the final two quarters.
"Any time you win, it's a good feeling, regardless of who you're playing," Stacy said.
The victory improved the Rams to 6-8 on the season, giving them a chance to finish a season with at least a .500 record for the first time since going 8-8 in 2006.
St. Louis closes out the regular season next weekend in Seattle to face a Seahawks club that could have little to play for.
The Rams also have won five of their six all-time home meetings with the Buccaneers, splitting two games in St. Louis since relocating from Los Angeles.
The Bucs have won six of the past eight encounters overall, but lost the most recent matchup 28-13 in Tampa on Dec. 23 of last year.
Tampa Bay is trying to finish strong following an 0-8 start. The Buccaneers had won three straight and four of five before getting bested by the visiting San Francisco 49ers 33-14 last weekend.
The game was closer than the score indicated, at least through the first three quarters. Tampa Bay pulled within six points six seconds into the fourth quarter on Tim Wright's 24-yard touchdown catch, but the Niners came back with a 17-play, 77-yard drive that ended with a field goal.
Tampa Bay then tried to make something happen on the kickoff with a reverse attempt, but the exchange between Eric Page and Russell Shepard was fumbled and San Francisco returned it two yards for a score.
"It was a tough loss. It was a hard-fought game. Unfortunate the way it ended," said Bucs head coach Greg Schiano. "We had opportunities, without a doubt, to stop them and we didn't do it. That's what it boils down to."
Wright and Vincent Jackson both caught TD passes, with Wright notching game highs of seven catches and 82 yards. Quarterback Mike Glennon was 18-of-34 passing for 179 yards with an interception and running back Bobby Rainey had just 27 yards on 11 carries.
Tampa Bay was outgained 376-183 and the defense failed to force a turnover while getting two sacks.
The Buccaneers, 1-5 on the road this season, ends the season next weekend at New Orleans.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Rams have been without their franchise quarterback Sam Bradford since he suffered a torn ACL on Oct. 20, complicating an offense that lost former star running back Steven Jackson to free agency this past summer.
However, they may have found their running back of the future in Stacy, who is just 146 yard shy of a 1,000-yard season despite not becoming the starting back until Week 5. He is coming off the longest touchdown run of his career and have found the end zone in five of his past six games.
"The thing about Zac is that he understands blocking schemes," complimented Clemens. "He's obviously talented. He's very strong. He's built to run forward, and he runs behind his pass well, and he never takes negative runs. If it's there, he hits it. If it's not there, he creates a hole and it gets us to."
While the 22-year-old running back figures to have earned his chance at being the featured back next season, 23-year-old defensive end Robert Quinn continues to emerge as one of the top pass rushers in football.
Quinn leads the NFC with 15 sacks after getting two versus the Saints. That comes after he logged 10 1/2 sacks in his second season last year and the 264- pounder has forced seven fumbles this season. He has recovered two fumbles in the past four games.
"I think Robert is definitely arguably one of the best in the league," noted Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis. "The way he's been extremely productive and has been consistently that way. The thing is, when you watch games where he hasn't had the numbers, he's always around the quarterback. He's been on a tear this year."
Quinn could find himself on a Pro Bowl line with Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy, who picked up his eighth sack of the season last weekend. That further extended his career high and he joined Warren Sapp, Santana Dotson and Brad Culpepper as the only defensive tackles in Bucs history to reach eight sacks in a season.
The third overall pick of the 2010 draft battled through biceps injuries over his first two seasons, but managed 30 tackles and five sacks in 16 games last season. In 2013, he has 42 tackles in 14 games.
"I look at a guy like Gerald and say when I arrived here there wasn't a heck of a lot of excitement about Gerald," said Schiano, who is in his second season as coach of the Bucs. That 'B-word' (bust) was even being mentioned and all he's done is busted his rear-end to be in great physical condition ... obviously last year was a Pro Bowl season, I think this year is a Pro Bowl season. He's really doing some great things in the pass rush."
Glennon, meanwhile, is still trying to prove he can lead the Bucs next season. He threw for 617 yards with five touchdown passes to one pick during Tampa Bay's three-game winning streak from Weeks 10-12, but has logged 449 yards passing with four touchdowns and four interceptions in the past three.
Though his numbers last weekend weren't flashy, Schiano noted that Tampa Bay moved the ball best versus San Francisco in the no-huddle, a credit to his quarterback.
"Mike's the one who controlled the whole operation, moving it down the field against, arguably, one of the top three defenses in the league. We didn't perform in some areas, but I thought Mike actually, without watching the tape, gave us the spark," Schiano said after the loss.
While Jackson has surpassed 1,000 yards receiving this season and leads the Bucs with seven touchdown catches, Wright has made a name for himself as a rookie out of Rutgers.
The 23-year-old is second on the club with 45 receptions and 486 receiving yards and his four touchdown catches are a new team record for rookie tight ends.
Schiano doesn't think that Glennon has regressed since a quick start and this will serve as a great test to prove that is true. The Rams are tied for fifth in the NFL with 42 sacks and were able to knock one of the league's top quarterbacks off the rails for a half last weekend.
"It shows that we can play along with great teams, beat great teams," Quinn said of the win over the Saints. "Throughout this year, we were a little inconsistent up and down, but if we finally start playing like this more consistently, we can definitely be a great team."
Great teams beat the ones they are supposed to and that is what the Rams need to do this weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rams 23, Buccaneers 17
12/19 15:39:38 ET