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NFL wild-card Saturday overreactions: Tom Brady primed for another Super Bowl run?
SportsPulse: The NFL’s first super wild-card Saturday triple-header did not disappoint. USA TODAY Sports’ Mackenzie Salmon breaks down the biggest story lines from each game.
For the first time since their 2002 Super Bowl season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won a playoff game.
Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David effectively sealed a 31-23 victory Saturday night at FedExField when he fought through a block to drop Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke 11 yards behind the line of scrimmage with 2:22 to play in an NFC wild-card game.
Credit 43-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, who notched his 31st career playoff victory and first not in a New England uniform, for advancing Tampa after an 11-5 season.
“He’s a fighter,” said Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette, who rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown. “He plays hard, he works hard, he studies hard. He’s the man for the job.”
Brady threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-40 passing, carving up the Football Team’s secondary early including a 36-yard touchdown to receiver Antonio Brown and a 27-yarder to Chris Godwin. That was enough to give Tampa a lead it would never lose despite the Football Team’s nasty front sacking Brady three times and hitting him seven in total.
The pressure hurt Tampa in the red zone, its 1-of-5 night prompting Brady to assert his unit has “certainly a lot to improve.” But the Buccaneers still logged 507 yards of offense in the victory and protected well enough for Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians to deadpan of Washington’s front: “No, they didn’t scare us.”
“If you could win 100 to nothing, it’s going to be the same result,” Brady said afterward. “You’d love to play great every game, I think it’s good to win and advance, and if we don’t play well next week, we’re not going to be happy.
“So I’m glad we won, glad we got another week of work and we’re going to go in and try to do a much better job this week and get ready for whoever our opponent is.”
Heinicke, for his part, impressed despite falling short late. The Buccaneers were already favored before Washington quarterback Alex Smith was ruled out with a lingering calf injury that hampered his mobility and functionality for the wildcard game. Heinicke, making just his second career start, demonstrated athleticism and seemed unfazed by Buccaneer blitzes and by a non-throwing shoulder injury that needed locker-room examination as he threw for 306 yards, a touchdown and an interception in addition to six rushes for a team-best 46 yards.
“He was very elusive,” said Arians, who also deemed his defense’s tackling “terrible” until the final eight minutes. “We were really hoping for Alex because we knew that part of the game wasn’t going to be in there, and (Heinicke) got out of some really good spots, made some really good plays. He had a lot of poise.”
Heinicke was impressive scrambling, three times converting a first down with his legs in addition to a third-quarter touchdown. Heinicke eluded a sack, dipped through the pocket, scrambled left and dove the final four yards to the pylon for the score. Washington rookie defensive stud Chase Young raced from his spot among defensive players on the sideline to embrace Heinicke, his left hand around his quarterback’s waist while his right index finger jabbed the nameplate on the back of Heinicke jersey. Young’s apparent message: “Remember this name.”
The Cinderella performance fell short, the Buccaneers instead advancing to the NFC divisional round.
Tampa’s bid to be the first team to compete in a hometown Super Bowl lives on.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein