The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Football Team gave us an incredibly entertaining matchup on Super Wild-Card Weekend, but it was Tom Brady and the Bucs that came out on top on Saturday night, 31-23. While it wasn't perfect for Bruce Arians' team, it was enough to get them in the divisional round and see them gain their first playoff victory in this Brady era in Tampa Bay. Even as the Bucs advance, however, you could make a strong case that Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke is still the main story from this contest. He nearly pulled off an epic upset in relief of the injured Alex Smith, as he completed 26 of 44 passes for 306 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He also led Washington in rushing with 46 yards and a touchdown on six carries.
While this Cinderella story for Washington had to be cut short in the opening round of the postseason, it was certainly a run to remember. As for Tampa Bay, they'll be hoping that this was just a minor step in a much longer journey. To get a more detailed recap of how the action unfolded at FedEx Field on Saturday, check out our takeaways below.
Why Tampa Bay won
While a win is a win, it wasn't exactly pretty for Bruce Arians and his team. The Buccaneers were clearly the more talented team and showed it when they needed to, especially within two separate strings where they scored points on three consecutive possessions. That said, the offense was inefficient in the red zone for most of the night and only found the end zone on one of their four trips into the red area on Saturday. A number of receivers -- highlighted by Chris Godwin -- also dealt with a case of the drops throughout the course of the night.
Even if it was a little clunky, however, there were some promising signs for Tampa Bay. Brady continued to look solid, throwing for 381 yards and two touchdowns while evading most of the pressure applied by Washington's defensive line. Brady particularly found a connection with Mike Evans in the second half and he finished his day with a game-high 119 yards receiving. That duo was key in extending a number of drives and helped as Tampa Bay gained advantages in time of possession, total yards, and first downs.
The key difference-maker in this winning effort for Tampa Bay was that they were essentially able to immediately answer whenever Washington put points on the board. Of Taylor Heinicke's four scoring drives, the Bucs scored on their next possession in all but one, which helped maintain the lead they built throughout the first half.
Again, it is a little concerning about their prospects going forward that they made Heinicke look like the second coming of Joe Montana, but Tampa made enough positive plays to lead from wire-to-wire, which is all you can ask for at this time of the year.
Why Washington lost
Even with a valiant effort by Taylor Heinicke, Washington never led in this game and just couldn't find a way to get over the hump, despite making it a close contest for parts of the night.
That was particularly apparent in the second half where it seemed like they were knocking on the door of an upset but couldn't break all the way through. Heinicke was able to lead Washington on a seven-play, 61-yard touchdown drive in the closing minutes of the third quarter to bring the Tampa Bay lead to just two points. However, the Buccaneers were quick to respond in a big way. They netted a field goal on their ensuing drive, and then held Washington's offense to a three-and-out that lasted just 59 seconds. After forcing them to punt there, they drove 69-yards down the field for a touchdown to go up by double-digits again.
While the final stat line of three sacks and seven quarterback hits may look like a strong day for Washington's front seven, they did go silent at key times. After hitting Tom Brady twice on the opening drive and stalling the Bucs offense to just a field goal, Washington was essentially unable to get after Brady for the rest of the first half outside of a sack with 49 seconds to play in the second quarter. Over that time Brady went untouched, he outscored Washington, 15-7.
There really wasn't a seismic shift in this game, but there were a few instances where Tampa Bay was able to edge out front and create a lead that would ultimately help produce this playoff win. The main one came in the first half as these two clubs traded touchdown drives that had the game separated by just two points in the Buccaneers' favor.
After Heinicke led a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to make it a 9-7 game, that's where Tampa Bay was able to create some significant separation. Brady and the Buccaneers put together a quick five-play drive that traveled 61 yards and ended in a 27-yard touchdown by Chris Godwin. After forcing Washington to punt, Tampa Bay added another three points courtesy of a Ryan Succop field goal. Those nine points gave the Bucs an 11-point lead heading into the break, which was a lead they never surrendered.
Even as Washington brought the game back within two-points at the 2:04 mark in the third quarter, the Bucs were able to answer every second-half scoring drive by Ron Rivera's club from that point on with points of their own to maintain their lead.
Play of the game
I would argue that Heinicke's 11-yard touchdown pass to Steven Sims Jr. in the fourth quarter was his best throw of the night and worthy of this spot, but you also can't deny how great an effort this run was. With the opportunity to possibly tie the game in front of him, Heinicke took a third-and-5 snap from the Tampa Bay 8-yard line out left, fully extended his body on a dive and nailed the pylon to give Washington the touchdown. The level of concentration and guts to open your body up for a hit and remain on target is enough for any coach to want the likes of Heinicke on their team.
No matter which way you slice it, it was a tremendous effort by the 27-year old, who completed 26 of his 44 passes for 306 yards and two total touchdowns. He also rushed for a team-high 46 yards. Heinicke did throw an interception, but the pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and he mostly kept Washington out of harm's way in that regard.
As the Washington Football Team heads into the offseason, the Buccaneers will advance to the Divisional Round. Thanks to the No. 6 seeded Rams upsetting the No. 3 seeded Seahawks, there's a chance Tampa Bay could actually host a game next week. That'd occur if Chicago upsets the Saints in New Orleans, sending the Bears to Green Bay to face the Packers while the Rams head to Raymond James Stadium. If the Saints win, however, the Bucs will head to New Orleans.