Tom Brady-led Buccaneers beat Washington for franchise's first playoff win since Super Bowl

Despite a valiant effort from quarterback Taylor Heinicke and the Washington Football Team, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prevailed on Super Wild Card Weekend. Brady led the Bucs to a 31-23 victory over Washington, the franchise’s first postseason triumph since winning the Super Bowl in the 2002 season. Heinicke got the start in place of Alex Smith and kept Washington hanging around, but Brady’s bunch led all game and fifth-seeded Tampa Bay fended off the NFC East champions to move on to the Divisional Round.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31, Washington Football Team 23

1) Age is, undoubtedly, but a number for at least one NFL player. Tom Brady became the oldest player to throw a postseason touchdown pass in NFL history Saturday, throwing his way past George Blanda (who did so in 1970) with his 36-yard completion to Antonio Brown to open Tampa Bay’s touchdown-scoring efforts on the night. His second touchdown pass established what would essentially prove to be a futile tail-chasing for the Washington Football Team, which repeatedly drew within a possession of Tampa Bay but never could get over the hump. The reason is simple: Brady kept them at bay with his arm. After Taylor Heinicke led an impressive and efficient touchdown drive, Brady responded with a perfectly placed strike to Mike Evans for a gain of 35, putting the Buccaneers in Washington territory with emphasis. Though they settled for a field goal on the drive, the throw and possession punctuated the Bucs’ greatest strength on Saturday night: The composure and delivery of Brady. The veteran was excellent when free from pressure, completing 14-of-26 passes for 238 yards, two touchdowns and a rating of 110.7, and he was nearly as effective when under duress, finishing with a line of 8-of-14 passing for 143 yards and a 92.3 rating when Washington registered a pressure, per Next Gen Stats. It’s long been known the best way to beat Brady is to get in his face and make him uncomfortable, but his quick decision-making and experience proved to be greater than anything Washington threw at him, even after sacking him three times. As has been the case for most of this season, the Buccaneers are only as good as Brady. On Saturday night, they were excellent with the ball in their control.

2) Brady is armed with a stellar receiving corps, and it’s a group that has only grown stronger in the last month. Brown continued his gradual climb Saturday night, catching two passes for 49 yards and the aforementioned touchdown, and rushing one time for 22 yards. His contributions make Tampa Bay’s corps deeper and much more dangerous, going from a group that causes opponents to dedicate resources to stopping Evans and Chris Godwin, to one that forces defenses to try to stop three effective receivers (plus Rob Gronkowski) all at once. Tampa Bay has issues defensively that were exposed Saturday night, but its offense is good enough to keep pace with better opponents at bare minimum. With Brown steadily improving, the Buccaneers have a passing game that can run with the best in the league, and it appears to only be getting better as we get deeper into the postseason.

3) Heinicke shined on Saturday night and might attract some serious interest in the offseason based on his limited sample size from 2020. The backup was called into action once it became clear Alex Smith wouldn’t be able to go, and he capitalized on the opportunity, completing 26-of-44 passes for 306 yards, a touchdown and an interception. What was most encouraging about the former Old Dominion and XFL passer was how he got better as the game progressed. Faced with an 18-7 deficit, Heinicke did not fold, leading efficient scoring drives to pull Washington within as few as two points late in the third quarter. His fearless dive for the pylon lit the internet on fire and injected Washington with a significant dose of belief, helping Washington make this one a close contest to the final minutes of action. For the majority of the game, Heinicke was composed in the pocket amid pressure manufactured by Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, hitting open targets and keeping a previously sleepy Washington offense awake and moving. Though Bowles’ late blitzes ultimately did Washington in, Heinicke earned a load of admirers with his efforts Saturday night, and made Washington’s quarterback situation interesting going forward.

4) For as much as he talked and later explained his talking, Chase Young was rather quiet Saturday night. Young failed to record a sack in the game, but registered four quarterback pressures while fighting through multiple blocking approaches employed by Bruce Arians’ offense. Young hit Brady three times, but ultimately came up empty-handed after declaring he wanted Brady in his grasp in the lead-up to Saturday’s showdown. That’s not to say Washington’s defense didn’t get after Brady, because it did, as evidenced by the aforementioned trio of sacks. But Brady was better than Washington’s pass rush for much of the night, bringing us to a somewhat unexpected realization once the game concluded: It was Washington’s defense, not its offense, that ended up falling short of achieving its goals, failing to get a stop when it needed it most in a one-score game in multiple opportunities.

5) Mike Evans overcame a scary knee injury suffered last week to again prove he’s a rare offensive talent. The big-bodied receiver finished with a line of six catches for 119 yards, and while he was shut out of the end zone, his presence helped open up his teammates in an offense that plays no favorites, thanks to Brady’s ability to spread the ball around. Tampa Bay caught a huge break when Evans avoided serious injury last week, and with his presence as the Buccaneers’ No. 1 receiver, Tampa Bay remains a dangerous team with a quick-strike offense that can wipe out field-position advantages as quick as one completion down the sideline to Evans. They did just that Saturday night, and they’re moving on because of this ability.

6) Tampa Bay’s defense will need to correct the errors that will show up on the game tape, because no matter how much you might appreciate Heinicke’s efforts, giving up over 300 yards to an inexperienced quarterback in a playoff game is inexcusable. Tampa largely went with base rushes, sending four or less on 67.4% of dropbacks while seemingly content with allowing its secondary to defend to its abilities. Problem is, those abilities were subpar on Saturday. Heinicke completed 22 of 31 attempts against three or four rushers for 224 yards and a 1-1 TD-INT ratio, and it wasn’t until the final moments that Bowles decided his defense’s best chance would come with additional rushers. Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul will have to be more effective against better offenses going forward in order to give Tampa Bay its best chance of winning another postseason contest. Speaking of recording playoff wins, the Buccaneers earned their first since their Super Bowl-winning season of 2002 on Saturday night, and though it came by a margin of a single possession, it has to be sweet for a franchise that was largely lost until Brady arrived. While Washington will head into the offseason encouraged by what it accomplished in the first year under Ron Rivera, the Buccaneers will be spending the week preparing for a greater challenge. That will come from either New Orleans or Los Angeles, depending on Sunday’s results, but we can guarantee it will be more difficult than Saturday night.

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