Buccaneers vs. Rams: Takeaways from St. Louis 23-13 Win to Tampa Bay

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerFeatured Columnist IVDecember 22, 2013

Buccaneers vs. Rams: Takeaways from St. Louis 23-13 Win to Tampa Bay

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    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    The St. Louis Rams (7-8) were able to top the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11) with a score of 23-13 in what was a thrilling home finale for St. Louis fans. 

    After trailing 7-0 in the opening quarter, the Rams got things rolling in the second quarter with a Zac Stacy rushing touchdown. On the next drive, St. Louis struck again with a 27-yard Stedman Bailey touchdown on a double reverse. 

    The Rams padded their lead with three second-half field goals by Greg Zuerlein, including a 54-yard bomb. 

    On defense, it was all about Robert Quinn. Quinn was constantly in the backfield and recorded three total sacks, giving him 18 on the season (an NFL high and a St. Louis franchise record). 

    The Rams will attempt to carry the momentum into Seattle a week from now as they seek their eighth win of the year. 

    For now, here are my takeaways from the game.

Robert Quinn Is Making History

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    Robert Quinn recorded three sacks against Tampa Bay (his third three-sack game of the year), giving him an NFL-high 18 sacks. 

    Quinn's 18 sacks give him the St. Louis franchise record for single-season sacks, breaking Kevin Carter's record of 17 sacks set in 1999. 

    Robert Mathis entered the week leading the NFL in sacks with 16.5, but Mathis had zero sacks in his Week 16 game against Kansas City, which gives Quinn a 1.5-sack lead over Mathis heading into Week 17. 

    If Quinn can hold on, he'll become the owner of the first annual Deacon Jones Award—an award named after the former Rams great that was established this year following Jones' death during the offseason. 

    Needless to say, it would be a tremendous honor for Quinn to bring the award to St. Louis in its first year. 

    On top of the sack title, Quinn is a shoo-in for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. If Quinn eventually wins the award, it will be the most prestigious honor awarded to a St. Louis player since Kurt Warner's MVP in 2001.

    It's not the playoff appearance St. Louis fans were hoping for, but it's a nice moral victory nonetheless.

Zac Stacy Sets New Record for Fifth-Round Backs

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    Everyone knows Quinn set a new sack record, but few people know that Stacy set a record of his own against Tampa Bay. 

    There have been 127 running backs drafted in the fifth round since the merger in 1970, and Stacy now has more rushing yards in his rookie year than all of them.

    Mike Thomas of the Washington Redskins set the record in 1975 with 919 yards, but Stacy surpassed him with a 104-yard performance against the Buccaneers, giving him 958 rushing yards this season. 

    The fact that Stacy only carried the ball one time throughout the first four games of the season makes this feat even more impressive. 

    If Stacy rushes for 42 yards a week from now in Seattle, he'll be the first fifth-round back in history to produce a 1,000-yard season as a rookie.

First-Half Fumbles Prevented Rams from Running Up the Score

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    First-half fumbles by Kellen Clemens and Stacy prevented the Rams from adding to their 14-7 lead late in the first half.

    A Clemens fumble at the goal line prevented a field goal, while a Stacy fumble on the very next drive gave the ball right back to Tampa Bay.

    Without those needless turnovers, St. Louis could have easily entered halftime with a double-digit lead over the Buccaneers.

    Mental errors and ball-security issues made this game closer than it should have been.

Stedman Bailey Is Breaking out

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    After recording just two receptions in the first 11 games, rookie third-round pick Stedman Bailey is beginning to produce with consistency.

    Bailey now has at least two catches in each of the last four games, and his performance against Tampa Bay was truly a breakout game with 44 receiving yards, as well as a 27-yard rushing touchdown on a double reverse.

    Bailey was overlooked early in the season due to the excitement surrounding Tavon Austin, but Bailey is quietly showing that he has a promising future in St. Louis.

Greg Zuerlein Is Still "Legatron"

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    It's nearly impossible for Zuerlein to match the "Greg-the-Leg" hype that surrounded him a year ago, but Zuerlein is still a solid element to St. Louis' special teams unit. He is still "Legatron."

    Zuerlein extended St. Louis' lead over Tampa Bay with a 54-yard field-goal—his first 50-yard kick of the season—and the second-year kicker is now 24-of-26 on field goals this season (92.3 percent).

    Zuerlein is establishing himself as an elite kicker in the NFL and continues to be a reliable weapon on a weekly basis.

Offense Still Productive with Clemens at the Helm

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    With only two touchdown drives against Tampa Bay, it was not the finest showing for the St. Louis offense, but Clemens is still getting it done. 

    Taking into account the Rams' goal-line fumble, the St. Louis offense moved into scoring position six times throughout the game and scored five times. 

    That's not a bad outing, even if the point total doesn't reflect that. 

    Additionally, Clemens completed 16 of 20 passes, giving him a career-high 80 percent completion rate. Prior to this game, Clemens had completed just 54.7 percent of his passes in 2013. 

    This offense is finding ways to get the job done even when the numbers are down. Not only is Clemens maintaining the offense with Bradford on the sidelines, but he's also gradually improving.

Coordinators Are Safe for Another Year

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    Early in the season, the Rams were struggling on both sides of the ball, and it appeared probable that one if not both coordinators would be sent packing by the end of the season. 

    Things have changed drastically since the first half of the season. 

    Brian Schottenheimer's offense scored 38 and 42 points in back-to-back weeks against Chicago and Indianapolis. The Rams are now averaging 24.8 points per game since the midway point of 2013.

    The run game was nonexistent in the first five games of the season, but the rushing attack now ranks a respectable 16th overall in the NFL (115 yards per game).  

    Meanwhile, Tim Walton's defense has held teams to an average of 19.8 points per game in the second half of the season. 

    The defense entered the week ranked 12th in run defense (105.4 yards per game), and that ranking will surely climb after holding Tampa Bay to just 59 yards on the ground. 

    Additionally, the defense ranks fifth overall in sacks (42), and we'll see that ranking climb as well with an astonishing seven-sack performance against the Buccaneers. 

    Both sides of the ball have flashed moments of greatness in recent weeks. With that in mind, it's unlikely that any coach will be handed a pink slip in the offseason.

Still Something to Play for

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    The Rams have been eliminated from the postseason picture, but with St. Louis' win over Tampa Bay, the Rams have a shot at accomplishing something the franchise has not achieved in seven years—finishing with a non-losing record.

    With seven wins on the season, the Rams have a chance to secure an 8-8 record with a win in Seattle. However, beating the Seahawks is a very tall order. 

    St. Louis has lost eight consecutive games in Seattle. The Rams have not won in CenturyLink Field since their 2004 overtime victory over the Seahawks. 

    If the Rams can snap the Seattle losing streak and secure an 8-8 record, it would be the ultimate consolation prize for St. Louis fans.