The Los Angeles Rams nearly fumbled away a massive lead to the reigning Super Bowl champs.
L.A. coughed up four fumbles to allow the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to wipe out a 27-3 Rams lead, tying the game with 42 seconds left after Tom Brady led back-to-back TD drives in the fourth quarter. But the Bucs blitzed Matthew Stafford with 28 seconds left, and the QB found Cooper Kupp deep for a 44-yard gain to set up a Matt Gay field goal to push the Rams to a 30-27 victory.
The contest marked just the fourth time in NFL playoff history that a team fumbled four times and still won and the first time since 1975 -- 1969 Chiefs (AFL Championship), 1970 Colts (Super Bowl V) and 1975 Steelers (AFC Championship Game).
Two blunders came from running back Cam Akers, who overcame a torn Achilles tendon in July to return for the postseason run. Akers fumbled with 19 seconds remaining in the first half, with L.A. leading 20-3 and looking to bury the Bucs before halftime. That botch wiped out a chance for points. Then, after a Kupp fumble led a Bucs TD and botched snap took more potential points off the board in the fourth quarter, Akers coughed it up again.
After a 55-yard bomb from Brady to Mike Evans closed Tampa Bay's deficit to 27-20, L.A. just needed a couple of first downs to ice the game. But on the second snap of the ensuing drive, Akers was stripped, giving the Bucs their opening to score the game-tying TD.
Luckily for Akers, the Rams had one final chance to win in regulation, and Stafford delivered, keeping the RB from becoming the goat.
Despite the fumbles, coach Sean McVay said after the win that he's still confident in Akers moving forward.
"[I] still have tremendous faith and confidence in Cam Akers, he's going to be a great player -- there will be a couple plays that he wants back, then we had a little miscommunication on the one snap after we end up getting the turnover in their territory," McVay said. "Those are things that [we] can't have, but we were able to overcome it, and I'm excited for those guys."
Despite missing most of the season with the Achilles tear, Akers took 24 of the Rams' 26 handoffs Sunday, with Sony Michel seeing just a single carry.
The Rams' run game went nowhere against the stingy Bucs front. Akers averaged just 2.0 yards per carry on his 24 totes, netting 48 yards with a long run of nine. Still, McVay continually called the runs -- particularly on first-and-10 -- with a big lead. The conservative nature nearly cost the Rams.
Los Angeles will now face the divisional rival San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. The Rams have lost six straight games to the 49ers, including Week 18 when L.A. blew a 17-0 lead to fall 27-24 in OT and allow San Francisco into the postseason tournament. McVay knows he'll need Akers.
"Yeah I think it's really the confidence in Cam but we do have confidence in Sony, it was tough to really be able to get anything in the run game going, they did a nice job," the Rams coach said. "[We] always talk about that, to be able to have that great ball security, especially when you're in those four-minute situations where you're really just trying to run the clock out. Still, we needed to compete and wanted to be able to do that, he was making a tough run, as he was pulling through it, it got a little away from him, and this defense does an outstanding job attacking at the football -- great learning [opportunity].
"I know he'll learn and he'll respond the right way from it."