By: Casey Dobson
It was another swashbuckling performance for Tampa’s newest Buc, Tom Brady. His 381 yards and two touchdowns were enough to put an end to the Cinderella story of the Washington Football Team. Brady’s 31st playoff win was also the first for the Buccaneers since 2002.
The former Patriot was able to do a lot of damage in the first half thanks to an unusually quiet showing from the Washington defensive line. Even still, Tampa was forced into settling for a field goal as their first score less than four minutes into the game. Before the quarter ended Antonio Brown caught a touchdown pass for the fourth consecutive game to make it 9-0. Washington blocked the extra point.
Earlier in the week Washington had to announce that Alex Smith was not fit to play, meaning that Taylor Heinicke, who was taking math classes online when Ron Rivera called him to be the quarantine quarterback, would be leading the charge. But it was his running back, J.D. McKissic, who was the first to put the team on the board when he ran for the two-yard touchdown.
The Buccaneers wasted no time responding, as Brady connected with Chris Godwin for the 27-yard score. It hadn’t even been three minutes since Washington pulled themselves back in it and Tampa already had their second touchdown. After the earlier PAT was blocked, Bruce Arians opted to try and run in a two-point conversion, which ultimately failed.
Despite Washington’s best efforts, they just couldn’t break through the Tampa Bay defence to squeeze any more points out of the first half. Tampa did add a field goal to their lead before halftime.
It was in the second half where Heinicke made the Buccaneers pay attention. He demonstrated a Houdini-like ability to escape the pocket, something that Arians admitted the team wouldn’t have had to plan for if Smith was playing. Heinicke led a nearly four-minute drive to open the half, but the team had to settle for a field goal after the Tampa Bay secondary held strong.
A large part of the third quarter involved both defences churning out stop after stop, and it was Washington who drew the only other blood of the frame. It was another showing of extreme elusiveness on behalf of Heinicke. He slipped out of a collapsing pocket and looked the part of Superman as he dove for the touchdown. Rivera’s men attempted a two-point convert but the pass was unsuccessful. The Football Team headed into the final quarter only down 18-16.
The Buccaneers put up two quick scores in the fourth to pull away, and asking Heinicke to make a comeback after that, given that his Superman dive caused him a shoulder injury, was looking like too tall a task. Nevertheless, the gritty NFC East champs added another touchdown with just under five minutes left, putting them within five points.
Tampa settled for a field goal when they got the ball back, giving Washington one final chance to pull off the miracle win. Heinicke had two minutes to get eight points on the board and for the first few attempts, it looked almost doable, but after being unable to convert on a fourth and long, the game, and their run, was over.
Brady and Brees will now face off for the third time this season in the Divisional round. Some say this game should be airing on the History Network, with Brady being 43 and Brees will be 42 by the time the game kicks off. Regardless of where you watch it, this is a matchup of greatness you won’t want to miss.