TAMPA, Fla. – Survive. Advance.
We could talk and fret all day about the bear trap that Tom Brady and the Bucs just avoided, moreover how this will in no way work at all in their next playoff game, which very well might take place in New Orleans, against the Saints, who, when last seen, were sweeping the Bucs with smashing 38-3 win in Tampa in November.
Or we could think about how lucky the Bucs were to win Saturday night in Washington, 31-23 over the 7-9 Washington football team, the lonesome pride of the NFC East. Washington didn’t have a nickname, didn’t have a quarterback after Alex Smith was injured (or so we thought), and might not have even had a city if America had lost its mind any more this week, per the emperor’s orders.
In theirs, Brady and the Bucs outlasted the very Make-a-Wish, Brady-fantasy-camp dreams of Washington back-back-back-up quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who only a month ago was out of football and studying for his engineering finals at Old Dominion. Saturday, he made his second NFL start. Tom Brady was making his 341st. You get the idea.
Well, you’re overthinking.
Put it this way: Brady’s record 31st postseason victory, far and away an NFL record, also happened to be the first Bucs playoff win in 6,558 days.
Repeating: six thousand, five hundred, fifty-eight.
Saturday was a special moment in Bucs history, no matter what. Brady might win these types of things all the time, six Super Bowl rings along with them, but the Bucs as a franchise had not won a playoff game since that January night in 2003 when they left the field in San Diego as world champions. It had been damn long since anything like this.
It doesn’t matter how the Bucs won, or how bad the defense looked or how young Heinicke nearly passed and ran his way into our hearts in Cinderella slippers. Brady and the Bucs won, and they really don’t care who is next, even if that means another road game, another Saints game.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Bucs head coach Bruce Arians. “We’re playing, and that’s all that matters.”
“You could win a 100-0 and it’s going to be the same,” Brady said. “You’d love to play great every game. I think it’s good to win and advance. Glad we won. Glad we got another week of work.”
Really, Saturday might have been the best thing for the Bucs. They returned to Earth after four straight wins to end the regular season but prevailed. They overcame a young, talented Washington pass rush, as well as the gum flapping of dynamic Washington rookie edge rusher Chase Young, who said “I want Tom.” Well, Tom, he got: 22-of-40 passing, 365 yards, and two touchdowns.
We also saw how tough Mike Evans is, injury or know, to the tune of six catches for 119 yards. We got to see how deep and varied the Bucs offense can be, with Leonard Fournette carrying the mail for 93 yards and a touchdown on the night, or Cameron Brate stepping up when Rob Gronkowski couldn’t, or Chris Godwin making a TD grab despite his other inexplicable drops, and Antonio Brown scoring, too.
The defense wasn’t very good, a concern moving forward, but it erased the final chapter of Heinicke’s near miracle.
But the Bucs won. Enough for starters. The Bucs offensive line shut down that Washington pass rush and shut up Young, who chatted up Brady after. Brady gave Young a hug. He patted Heinicke’s back. Nice try, kid. The Bucs’ real test lies dead ahead, no matter who it brings.
“But I’m never going to apologize for winning, and next week is next week,” Arians said.
Who cared Saturday night?
It had been 6,558 days.
“We’ll figure out who we’re playing tomorrow and go from there,” Brady said.
Welcome to his world.
A brave new one for the Bucs, at last.