ST. LOUIS — Lavonte David turned in his usual assortment of stellar plays against the Rams, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still lamenting the one that got away.
Tampa Bay’s standout outside linebacker was credited with a game-high 11 tackles and a fumble recovery in Sunday’s 23-13 loss. Midway through the third quarter, with St. Louis clinging to a 14-13 advantage, David closed in on tight end Jared Cook along the left sideline after an 18-yard completion from Kellen Clemens.
David jarred the ball loose at the Bucs’ 40-yard line, but officials ruled Cook’s knee was already down and Tampa Bay did not challenge the call on the field. Greg Zuerlein eventually kicked a 54-yard field goal to extend the lead.
“At first, I thought the ball was out and I thought (coach Greg Schiano) was going to throw the (challenge) flag,’’ David said. “But when we came off the field, I talked to Coach about it and he said he talked to the guys upstairs and they said he was down before the ball came out.’’
The Rams lost fumbles on successive second-quarter series, but Tampa Bay came away with only three points on those opportunities.
Safety Dashon Goldson was surprised the Bucs didn’t ask for a review after David popped the ball loose from Cook.
“Yeah, I thought it was out before he went down,’’ Goldson said. “But somebody upstairs might have seen something different and convinced (Schiano) not to throw the flag.’’
The Rams limited the NFL’s lowest-ranked offense to only 170 total yards — and more than half of that total came courtesy of wide receiver Vincent Jackson.
Tampa Bay’s only proven weapon was targeted 10 times Sunday and Jackson responded with five catches for 98 yards. Jackson was especially productive in the opening half, grabbing four passes for 82 yards from rookie quarterback Mike Glennon.
“I don’t think in the second half many people were targeted,’’ Schiano said. “We only threw the ball 26 times, so there were not that many opportunities for Vincent.’’
Jackson, who has faced constant double teams since wide receiver Mike Williams was sidelined by a season-ending hamstring tear, now has a career-high 74 receptions for 1,189 yards and seven touchdowns.
“The receivers were doing a good job of getting open,’’ said Glennon, who was sore after being sacked seven times. “They played a lot of man coverage and in those situations, you throw it Vincent Jackson’s way and he’ll make a play.’’
Nowhere to run against Rams
Unable to budge the sturdy defensive line of the Rams, Tampa Bay ran for only 59 yards on 23 rushing attempts.
With St. Louis winning the battles up front, the Bucs converted four of 14 on third down and fell to 2-24 in the past three years when rushing for fewer than 100 yards.
“It’s difficult to win when you can’t get the run game started,’’ left tackle Donald Penn said.
With the exception of Bobby Rainey’s 80-yard touchdown dash against Buffalo two weeks ago, the Bucs have not run effectively in the past five games.
“I wish I knew the answer,’’ center Jeremy Zuttah said. “Yes, it’s maddening. One negative play puts you in a tough spot in this league. We’ve got to do a better job of minimizing those negative plays.’’
Rainey kept pounding away, finishing with 37 yards on 20 carries while trying to dodge an array of defenders knifing in the backfield.
“Tampa Bay’s a good football team,’’ Rams defensive end Chris Long said. “I know their coach prides them on being physical around the football. Shoot, we did a pretty good job against the run and some trick stuff.”