Graham's big day, 3:34 p.m.
Earnest Graham just sealed it with a 28-yard touchdown run with five minutes left, a gain during which he would not be denied. Even a Rams facemask couldn't stop him.
The Bucs are now up 24-3 with five minutes left. This will be my last entry of the game, aside from the final score update.
Check back this evening for the game story, the notebook, the game summary and photo galleriers from today's game. And keep tabs on that Panthers-Falcons game that starts in about 45 minutes. If the Panthers win, that game will be huge.
Finally, you can chat with me at 10 p.m. tonight in the Bucsblitz.com chat room about the game. Stop by and interact with users around the country.
It appears to be in hand, 3:30 p.m.
Kevin Carter just shared in a sack of Rams quarterback Marc Bulger on third down, forcing the Rams into a punt with the clock winding under seven minutes.
It would appear as if the Bucs are on their way to their second win this season. Give the defensive credit for their play today. This wasn't as lively a performance as last week's game against New Orleans. And this unit bent plenty. But it never broke. They never gave up the big play to Rams RB Steven Jackson, or the big pass play downfield. And the way Jackson ran the first three quarters, I expected a big play at some point.
Bucs' moment of truth, 3:25 p.m.
Earnest Graham just scored his first regular-season NFL touchdown with 7:56 remaining in the game to give the Bucs a 17-3 lead.
Here's a trust issue. Carnell Williams' fumble led to a field goal by the Rams. Guess who wasn't on the field on the next drive? Williams. They gave the ball to Graham instead.
I can already hear Gruden saying that Williams "re-aggravated" the rib injury. If so, then why was he out there in the first place on that fumble, a drive after he left the game after apparenly re-aggravating the injury?
Bucs WR Joey Galloway went down on the turf after Michael Pittman's catch for a first down, but he got up shortly thereafter and appeared to be fine.
Bet that made Jon Gruden's brain go numb for a minute.
Rams left guard Mark Setterstrom has a left knee sprain and is undergoing further evaluation in the locker room.
Injured Ram, 3:15 p.m.
Starting left guard Mark Setterstrom is leaving the game on a cart after suffering an injury on Jeff Wilkins' field goal attempt.
That's a big blow to an already short-handed offensive line. With Adam Goldberg already in the lineup at right tackle for Milford Brown, it's likely that we coud see backup center Andy McCollum in his spot. Plus, if Brown can play, Goldberg may move back to left guard, where he's the backup.
Rams finally score, 3:13 p.m.
There's now way Jeff Wilkins could miss this one, right? He made the 25-yard field goal to cut the lead to seven points, 10-3, with 11:31 remaining in the game.
That's an important stop for the Bucs defense, which seems to have made every stop it's needed to today.
Now the offense needs to hold onto the ball for a while.
Rams win challenge, 3:06 p.m.
The Rams won the challenge, which is no real surprise. Cadillac did fumble it.
If the Rams don't get something here, the Bucs will win this game. This is the best field position they've had all day.
Bucs turn it over, 3:05 p.m.
Just when you think it's starting to get safe for these Bucs, Carnell Williams fumbles on the first play of the fourth quarter and the Rams recover. They now have the ball at the Bucs 33 and are almost certain to score — if the Bucs don't win this challenge on the fumble.
It might be time to start talking about Williams' ball possession issues. This is his second fumble in three games, right?
Rams still sputtering, 3:02 p.m.
Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins' 44-yard attempt doinked off the right upright, leaving the Rams scoreless as time expired in the third quarter.
How snakebit are the Rams right now? Every time it seems they get something going, something seems to stop them. On this drive, it was a Bucs linebacker.
Cato June waylaid Rams RB Steven Jackson in the backfield with a hit that can only be described as vicious. He got a little of Jackson's head with his arm, but no penalty was called. He lost three yards. Then, an incompletion to Travis Minor and a short gain by Jackson on a screen left the Rams in position for the Wilkins attempt.
Jackson already has 100 yards rushing and we're not even into the fourth quarter yet.
Bucs have to punt, 2:55 p.m.
Phillip Buchanon's decision to run the interception out of the end zone had an impact on the Bucs' offensive woes on that drive, as they ended up with bad field position, and the sack of Jeff Garcia near the goal line didn't help. The Bucs have to punt. Josh Bidwell, once again punting out of his end zone, pushed the Rams back into their own territory, as the Rams have the ball at their own 45 with 4:00 left in the third.
And the Eagles-Lions game just went to halftime, with the Eagles up 42-21.
Cadillac Williams left the field after his last carry. He may have re-aggravated the rib injury when he landed on his back.
Rams try to get back into it, 2:51 p.m.
The Rams had a touchdown in their sights until Phillip Buchanon picked off Marc Bulger on a fade pass in the end zone. The Rams aren't having luck with that play today.
The Bucs have the ball at their own 13 with 5:42 left in third.
The Bucs defense was hit with two big penalties that helped the Rams move the ball downfield. The late hit call on Bucs LB Derrick Brooks seemed a bit dubious. It was hard to tell if the Rams player was down or not. And then a taunting call on Ronde Barber shortly afterward didn't help. Barber did stand over the Rams player after the catch, which I guess is part and parcel with the rule. But he didn't seem to be doing much outside of that. His arm gesturing could have been seen as celebrating Barrett Ruud's big hit on the play. It will be interesting to hear what Barber has to say after the game.
Bucs set the tone, 2:39 p.m.
Carnell Williams just scored from seven yards out to give the Bucs a 10-0 lead. There was great blocking to the right side, as not only Jeremy Trueblood and David Joseph did their job, but so did fullback B.J. Askew and tight end Anthony Becht.
That was a huge drive for Tampa Bay at this point in the game, as the Rams are now down two scores and just saw the Bucs run right up the gut of their defense.
Caddy is now tied for ninth in team history for career touchdown runs with 10.
Mark Jones had a shot at history there on the kickoff, as he had a big hole up the middle and had an eye on returning it all the way before he cut back into a Rams tackler near midfield. Oh, well. The streak continues.
Second half starting, 2:30 p.m.
The rain is letting up and the Bucs have a 3-0 lead. They're lucky to have it, because the Rams have outplayed them most of the game.
The good news for Tampa Bay? They get the ball first to start the second half, giving them a chance to set the momentum.
BTW, St. Louis' Steven Jackson has 18 carries for 63 yards. He's going to break one at some point today.
Bucs take the lead, 2:16 p.m.
Tampa Bay drove deep into Rams territory in the final two minutes to set up Matt Bryant's 27-yard field goal. The Bucs have a 3-0 lead with three seconds left.
Most of us in the press box thought the Bucs might take a shot at the end zone with 12 seconds left. But showers started just as the Bucs got into the red zone and may have influenced Jon Gruden's call to have Michael Pittman run the ball and get Bryant into good position for the kick.
Jeff Garcia scrambled out of two potential sacks to find Ike Hilliard for a first down in Rams territory, two plays after Hilliard dropped a pass. Then Michael Clayton dropped a sure pass with plenty of room to run. Yes, Garcia threw it a tad behind him, but Clayton had to make that catch, in my opinion. Two plays later, Clayton caught a pass for a first down, but nearly lost it before Alex Smith recovered the fumble.
I think there may be something in Clayton's head right now — and it's not football.
Rams fourth drive ends with missed field goal, 2 p.m.
The Rams took a shot at the end zone on third down from the Bucs 24, but Torry Holt was unable to haul in a slightly underthrown fade pass by Marc Bulger.
Then, Jeff Wilkins missed a long field goal wide left.
This is a huge break for Tampa Bay, because the Rams offense moved the ball well on that drive, finally finding an offensive groove by mixing Steven Jackson and Brian Leonard with some high-percentage passing to have their way with the Bucs defense. It seems all the short gains that Jackson was getting earlier has softened up the Bucs' interior defense, plus made them more likely to cover the run.
The Rams chose to go for it on fourth and one from the Bucs 27. The Rams gave it Leonard and he made it pretty easily.
The Bucs missed a golden opportunity to put points on the board on the first play of the drive, as Isaac Bruce went over the middle for a catch and took a big hit from Bucs safety Jermaine Phillips. He knocked the ball loose and Phillip Buchanon returned it for a touchdown. Unfortunately, Kevin Carter was offsides, negating the entire play and giving the Rams the ball first-and-five.
Bruce took a blow to the head. He's in the locker room for tests.
Bucs' third drive ends in punt, 1:43 p.m.
A misguided attempt at an end-around (Michael Clayton didn't sell it well) and a penalty for 12 men in the huddle derailed a promising drive for the Bucs near midfield. The drive ended with a shovel pass.
One must wonder what the Bucs were trying to call that drive. An end around, and then a shovel pass on third and 16? Maybe Garcia should go disagree with Gruden.
Bidwell's punt looked bad, but it pinned the Rams at their own 11 with 10:05 left in the second.
Meanwhile, every other game in the NFL has points. Heck, the moribund Eagles have 21 on the Lions.
Rams open second quarter with INT, 1:35 p.m.
Tampa Bay safety Jermaine Phillips just picked off Marc Bulger on a designed rollout play to the Bucs sideline. Phillips had the play completely read. It would have been enough for the first down, but Phillips stepped in front of it for the game's first turnover, and the Bucs' second interception this season.
Not bad for a guy most people — myself included — wanted to bench in the offseason.
By the way, Sabby Piscitelli has a foot injury. His return is questionable.
Bucs have the ball at their own 34 with 13:20 left in the second quarter.
One of my predictions is right, 1:29 p.m.
I predicted that Gaines Adams would have his first tackle for loss today in my "Observation Deck" game preview, and he just dropped Steven Jackson for a 1-yard loss.
Of course, on the next play, Jackson went up the gut for a big gain and a first down to end the quarter. Rams are at Tampa Bay's 42 entering the second.
Bucs second drive ends in punt, 1:28 p.m.
The Bucs go three and out, barely creating any space for punter Josh Bidwell. The Rams are going to get good field position.
Rams defensive end Leonard Little hurdled Cadillac Williams on one play. On two plays Jeff Garcia was running for his life as the protection broke down. The O-Line did not have a good series.
Bidwell at least put the Rams near midfield. St. Louis is at their own 46 with :56 remaining in the first quarter.
Rams second drive ends in punt, 1:23 p.m.
The Rams get a couple of more first down, but the drive ends when Marc Bulger's pass to Brian Leonard is incomplete.
One thing to keep any eye on is Steven Jackson, as he's already carried the ball seven times for 21 yards. It's not so much the production as it is the number of carries. The Rams seem committed to getting Jackson go early, or at the least force the Bucs defense to commit to the run and open up the passing game.
Rams punter Donnie Jones pinned the Bucs at their 1 with 2:32 left in the first.
Bucs first drive ends in missed field goal, 1:17 p.m.
This drive started with promise, as Jeff Garcia hit Joey Galloway twice for first downs. Plus, a Michael Pittman draw play netted another first down. But the Bucs' drive sputtered and they attempted a long Matt Bryant field goal. He missed short and Rams return man Dante Hall returned the miss to the Rams 33.
Bucs probably should have punted there, in hindsight. They could have pinned the Rams inside the 10.
Rams have it first and 10 with 5:36 left in the first.
Rams get ball first, punt, 1:10 p.m.
The Rams won the toss and chose to receive the opening kickoff.
After collecting two first downs, the Bucs stood up Steven Jackson for a two-yard gain on third-and-four. Rookie Greg Peterson led the way. The Rams will punt.
The Rams put together a solid mix of run and pass on that drive, though the Rams kept the passes short, an obvious nod to their past problems in pass protection.
Bucs will have the ball at their own 20 after the punt, 10:40 left in the first.
Final thoughts before kickoff, 12:50 p.m.
Before they announce the starting lineups, here are three things to watch today:
Can the Bucs defensive front four get a pass rush on Rams QB Marc Bulger without a blitz? It should be a little easier today, given the Rams' problems up front.
Can Cadillac Williams gain 100 yards? I think it's possible, as this Rams run defense hasn't proven it can stop DeShaun Foster, DeAngelo Williams or Frank Gore in two weeks of football.
Can the Rams cover Joey Galloway? Without regular corner Tye Hill, the Rams are short-handed, and we all saw what Galloway did to a Saints secondary at full strength last week.
Offense gets the nod during pre-game intros today. Hilliard will start.
Kelly to play, 12:05 p.m.
It appears Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly will start today. He was not announced as a lineup change before the game.
No word on whether WR Ike Hilliard will start, but he is not inactive.
DE/LB Patrick Chukwurah will not play today. He is inactive for the third straight game.
For the Rams, Claude Terrell will start at right guard for Richie Incognito, and Adam Goldberg will start at right tackle for Milford Brown, who suffered a minor injury last week.
The Rams had said earlier this week that Goldberg and Brown might rotate at the position.
Here is the inactive list for Sunday's game:
Rams: WR Marques Hagens (third quarterback), CB Tye Hill, RB Antonio Pittman, LB Pisa Tinoisamoa, G Richie Incognito, DT Louis Leonard, T Brandon Gorin, TE Aaron Walker.
Bucs: QB Chris Simms, QB Luke McCown (third quarterback), S Will Allen, LB Jeremiah Trotter, DE/LB Patrick Chukwurah, G/T Anthony Davis, G Dan Buenning, DT Ryan Sims.
Pre-game activities, 11 a.m.
Two hours before game time is the best chance to see players doing individual work.
Now, I'm watching backup linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and linebackers coach Gus Bradley go over defensive nuances at the 10-yard line. It looks as if, right now, they're discussing Trotter's position in blitz packages.
Does that mean Trotter will be active today? Not sure. The inactives will be announced in about an hour.