Welcome to my weekly post-game column, where I’ll take a look at the moment(s) the game turned either in favor or against the Buccaneers. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive look at all the reasons the Bucs won or lost, but instead the key moment or two where things went north or south for the team.
When the Bucs went up 28-16 with just over nine minutes in the game, it felt like they had finally built the advantage they needed to pull away from Washington’s stingy squad, but the Tampa Bay defense had other ideas. Todd Bowles’ prevent defense allowed the Football Team to march down the field and score in just 4:20, leaving the Bucs with just under five minutes to respond or risk giving the Fighting Taylor Heinickes the ball with a chance to win the game.
Up 28-23 with 4:48 on the clock, the Bucs took over at their own 23 with a chance to seal the game. Leonard Fournette banged over the left side for two yards on first down, putting the Bucs in second-and-8 with the clock running down near four minutes.
Tampa Bay came out in 11 personnel on second down, motioning Cam Brate to the boundary side before the snap, which revealed Washington’s defense playing in man coverage after safety Kamren Curl trailed the veteran tight end across the formation. With banged up wide receiver Mike Evans running a go route against a Cover 1 look, Brady probably knew pre-snap that there was a good chance he would take this shot down the field, but a low snap from Ryan Jensen throws off the typical rhythm from the pocket.
Brady’s eyes dropped to handle the errant snap, and as soon as he righted himself in the pocket, Washington defensive lineman Jonathan Allen was already in his face after immediately beating Bucs left guard Ali Marpet with a nasty club-rip move. Brady could never have expected Marpet, who had surrendered just 10 pressures in 13 games going into Saturday night, to be beaten so quickly, but the quarterback stayed poised and unfurled a beauty of a deep ball to Evans, who was streaking down the left sideline after whipping Kendall Fuller at the line of scrimmage.
Evans never broke stride in hauling in a perfect 35-yard teardrop from Brady, and the result was a huge gain and first down to the Washington 40 with four minutes left in the game. A 13-yard run by Fournette on the next play, who wisely slid down in bounds, put the Bucs in field goal range for a 37-yard Ryan Succop try that split the uprights to give the Bucs a 31-23 lead with under three minutes left in the game.
After surrendering back-to-back first downs to begin Washington’s final drive, the Bucs defense finally rose up and got a critical stop, largely thanks to a massive 11-yard sack from blitzing linebacker Lavonte David on third-and-10. It was a fitting end for Tampa Bay’s first postseason win since the 2002 Super Bowl, as the team’s leaders and most respected veterans – Brady, Evans and David – all made the critical plays down the stretch to seal the victory. The tests will get tougher for the Bucs in the divisional round, where they will face either the New Orleans Saints or the Los Angeles Rams, but on Saturday night, a clutch throw from Brady, who passed for 381 yards and two touchdowns, and a great route by a hampered Evans, who led the team with six catches for 119 yards, was enough to carry the Bucs to victory in the wild card round.