The Bucs held on despite a second-half comeback attempt from the Washington Football Team to claim a 31-23 win in Tampa Bay’s first playoff victory since hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XXXVII.
A postseason berth that was 13 years in the making started quickly for Tampa Bay as the Bucs took a 15-7 lead on the back of a Ryan Succop field goal and two deep touchdown passes to Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin, despite failing on an extra point and two-point conversion attempt. Succop added one more field goal with less than two minutes remaining in the half to give the Bucs an 18-7 lead heading into the locker room after two quarters.
Despite trailing by double digits, Washington came out of the gate firing in the second half. On their first drive of the half quarterback Taylor Heinicke led Washington down the field and into the Bucs’ red zone before a pass through the hands of tight end Logan Thomas on third down left Washington settling for a field goal. After Tampa Bay responded with a quick three-and-out, Heinicke led another scoring drive that he finished himself on an eight-yard touchdown run, but a failed two-point conversion left Tampa Bay clinging to an 18-16 lead. The Bucs extended that lead to five on another field goal early in the fourth quarter and added a short touchdown from Fournette with just over nine minutes left, putting the score at 28-16, but Heinicke wasn’t finished.
Washington drove down the field yet again and Heinicke got his first – and only – touchdown pass of the game, connecting with Steven Sims Jr. in the back of the end zone and it was once again a five-point game with just over four minutes remaining. Tom Brady, never one to be outdone, took the Bucs back into Washington territory but a big sack on second down from Daron Payne forced the Bucs to once again settle for a field goal and an eight-point advantage. Washington had one more drive to answer back but who else but Lavonte David, the long-time Buc in his first career postseason appearance, got to Heinicke on third-and-10 and pushed them into a fourth-and-21 that would prove too much to overcome. The Bucs made the fourth down stop on a Hail Mary attempt and were able to run the clock out on Washington’s season.
With Tampa Bay heading home with the victory, they’ll now wait until Sunday to see who next week’s opponent will be. If the Saints beat the Bears then the Bucs will head to New Orleans for their NFC Divisional match-up. But should Chicago pull off the upset, the Bucs would stay in Tampa and host the Rams following Los Angeles’ 30-20 win over the Seahawks on Saturday.