NFL: Brady leads Bucs
Tampa Bay QB Tom Brady
By STEPHEN WHYNO AP Sports Writer
LANDOVER, Md. — New team, same swashbuckling playoff success for Tom Brady.
Brady threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers past Washington 31-23 in their NFC wild-card game Saturday night for their first playoff victory since 2002.
In his 42nd postseason start and first not in a New England Patriots uniform, Brady made the most of a lack of pressure to carve up the NFL’s second-ranked defense on 22 of 40 passing.
He had to outduel Washington’s Taylor Heinicke, who had a breakout performance in just his second pro start and first in the playoffs in place of injured starter Alex Smith. Heinicke — signed in early December to the practice squad — ran for 46 yards and a touchdown and threw for 306 yards and a score.
But that wasn’t enough to overcome Brady’s brilliance.
While Bill Belichick and the Patriots watch from home with their playoff streak snapped at 11 following a 7-9 season, Brady has the opportunity to play in another Super Bowl — in his new home stadium.
The Buccaneers await the result of Chicago at New Orleans on Sunday to see if they’ll be visiting Drew Brees and the Saints or host the Los Angeles Rams next weekend. They’d need a Bears upset to play at home in the divisional round.
There’s not much slowing Brady, who at 43 years, 159 days passed George Blanda as the oldest player to throw a TD pass in a playoff game. A 36-yard scoring connection with Antonio Brown was Brady’s longest in the playoffs since 2011.
Brady was methodical in the first half with 12 completions for 209 yards and wasn’t sacked until the final minute of the second quarter.
Heinicke made things interesting in the third, most notably scrambling for an 8-yard TD by diving at the pylon in the corner of the end zone. The play even got the attention of reigning Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes, who tweeted, “Bro what!?!?!”
The series after Heinicke banged up his left shoulder, Brady engineered a 69-yard scoring drive capped by a 3-yard Leonard Fournette TD run. That made it 28-16, which was enough to withstand Heinicke’s attempt to be the unlikely hero.
With Smith out because of a strained right calf, Heinicke made a name for himself in prime time, setting the single-game franchise rushing record for quarterbacks and raising the question of whether he should be considered Washington’s QB of the future.
He had only appeared in eight games and started one in the NFL before Saturday and was taking online math classes at Old Dominion when coach Ron Rivera called him to be Washington’s “quarantine quarterback.”
BROWN ON A ROLL
Brown has a TD catch in four consecutive games dating to the regular season, tying the second-longest streak in franchise history. Mike Evans owns the record at six games.
Maybe there’s something about playing at FedEx Field that brings out the best in Brown. In his only other game at Washington in 2016 with Pittsburgh, he had eight catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns.
Buccaneers: RG Alex Cappa left late in the second quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. … Evans played through a knee injury suffered in the regular-season finale.
Washington: RB Antonio Gibson limped off after a play in the first quarter, but stayed in. He has been dealing with a lingering toe injury that caused him to miss two recent games.
Washington: season over.
Buccaneers: in the divisional round next weekend and will visit Drew Brees and the Saints if New Orleans beats Chicago or host the Los Angeles Rams if the Bears pull the upset Sunday.