Replenished Bucs defensive line gets Akiem Hicks, and its groove, back
The periodically flustered 45-year-old wasn't the only one feeling redeemed and rejuvenated as the waning seconds elapsed Sunday night. On the same warm evening in which the GOAT got his mojo back, so did the girth. While Tom Brady again was delivering in the clutch, an assortment of behemoths were delivering in the trenches.

"We worked so hard for this, and at the end of the day you just want to see results," Bucs 307-pound nose tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches said in the immediate wake of his team's 16-13 win against the Rams. "You don't want to keep talking about it, you want to be about it."

For at least one night, complementary football became a reality - not just a remote concept - at Raymond James Stadium again. Posterity will note that on the same evening Brady found rookie tight end Cade Otton for a 1-yard scoring throw with nine seconds remaining, the defense held the reigning world champs to a season-low 206 yards and sacked Matthew Stafford four times.

"I thought they fought hard. They were very good in situational football this week," coach Todd Bowles said. "Other than one play, probably two plays there, those guys played tough. They communicated all night and hats off to them. They did a heck of a job."

Setting the tone was a defensive front finally equipped with a full arsenal. "We had to do our thing, man," 347-pound starting nose tackle Vita Vea said.

Veteran tackle Akiem Hicks, logging his first action since sustaining a plantar fascia tear in Week Two, didn't record a stat, but freed up Vea to a degree with his mere presence. Not coincidentally, Vea finished with two sacks and three quarterback hurries, and stuffed tailback Darrell Henderson for no gain on first down on the Rams' final possession.

It ended with a three-and-out that gave Brady the ball back with 44 seconds to play. For the night, the Rams - who entered with the NFL's No. 31 rushing offense - finished with 68 yards on 24 carries (2.8 yards per attempt).

"Oh my goodness, I've been waiting to have an opportunity to be out there on the field with (Vea) in these game-time situations," Hicks said. "And one of the beautiful balances that you saw tonight was that they have to double somebody and they have to single someone. And both of us playing with a power-type game, that single guy is going to have a little bit of a night."

Vea wasn't the only one flourishing. On second and 10 at the Bucs' 10, Nunez-Roches sacked Stafford for a 9-yard loss that ultimately forced Los Angeles to settle for a short Matt Gay field goal late in the third quarter. Stafford was hit eight times on the night, with two passes deflected. The Bucs made the Rams punt nine times, forcing them into eight three-and-outs. "I told (Hicks) after the game, ‘Man, I'm proud to have you back,' " Nunez-Roches said. "We're complementary pieces, and we were missing a big piece."

They're no longer missing their mojo. "Oh my goodness. Words can't even explain, man," Nunez-Roches added. "I've put in a lot of work for that. And to see Vita go out and do what he did and be able to come right behind him and do the same thing, that's what you pray for."

Joey Knight, The Tampa Bay Times, published 7 November 2022