Warrick Dunn, Shaun King and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pulled off the Great Escape and pushed the Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams to the brink of elimination.
Dunn combined with King on one of the craziest plays of the season, then scored his third touchdown with 48 seconds remaining as the Buccaneers clinched a playoff spot Monday night with a 38-35 victory that left St. Louis needing help to make the postseason.
“It’s deflating,” Rams safety Keith Lyle said. “To lose by three points hurts because we had it wrapped up until that last drive.”
Rams Fall Short
Marshall Faulk scored four touchdowns for the Rams, but it was not enough in a rematch of last season’s NFC championship game won by St. Louis 11-6.
To reach the playoffs, the Rams (9-6) need to beat New Orleans next Sunday and hope Chicago (4-11) pulls an upset at Detroit.
“We controlled our own destiny up to this point. We didn’t get it done,” Rams quarterback Kurt Warner said. “We can’t look to anybody else and say it was their fault. It was our fault. We didn’t finish this thing. Now we need help.”
The win by Tampa Bay (10-5) also clinched the NFC West for New Orleans. The Buccaneers can still win the NFC Central with a victory at Green Bay on Sunday and a Minnesota loss at Indianapolis.
After Torry Holt’s 72-yard touchdown catch from Warner gave the Rams a 35-31 lead with just over five minutes to play, the Buccaneers rallied behind a wild play.
From their own 35, King threw a swing lateral to Dunn around the right side. But Dunn was trapped far behind the line and, as he was being dragged down, suddenly pitched the ball back to King.
King shook loose and streaked down the right sideline for a 15-yard gain, and 15 more yards were tacked on for a late hit called on linebacker Mike Jones.
“Shaun was just calling for the ball. We were desperate at the time,” Dunn said. “It turned out to be a great play.”
‘It Came Down to Two Plays’
Later, on a fourth-and-4 in Rams’ territory, King scrambled for a first down. King then threw a 22-yard pass to Reidel Anthony, which set up Dunn’s 1-yard TD run.
“I thought we had the thing won. It came down to two plays,” St. Louis coach Mike Martz said. “We had Dunn hemmed in there and then he made the pitch. … But we’re not out of this. We have a chance to be 10-6. We are going to go down to New Orleans and get after it.”
Warner tried to bring back the Rams, but threw his third interception of the game. John Lynch’s pickoff gave the Buccaneers sweet revenge from last season’s loss in the NFC title game.
Keyshawn Johnson caught two touchdown passes and Dunn rushed for more than 100 yards for the third time in four weeks.
Faulk scored four touchdowns for the second straight week and third time this season, breaking the NFL record he shared with Jim Brown.
Warner completed 20 of 32 passes for 316 yards and two TDs.
King, who led the 13-play, 80-yard drive to win the game, completed 18 of 38 passes for 256 yards. His TD throws of 8 and 17 yards to Johnson, who had seven catches for 116 yards, were Tampa Bay’s first touchdown passes in five games.
“We’ve always had faith in Shaun, even through the tough times,” said cornerback Ronde Barber, who had one of Tampa Bay’s interceptions. “People have been down on him. People have been down on us. He stepped up to the occasion.”
Tampa D Unravels