The Bucs did what they needed to as they survived and advanced by beating the Washington Football Team 31-23 in the Super Wild Card Round. The team leaders made their mark for Tampa Bay as Mike Evans, Tom Brady and company made big plays when it was needed to get the job done and pull off their first postseason win since hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl XXXVII.
Here were the most impressive players from the game.
RB Leonard Fournette
With Ronald Jones unable to go after warmups, Fournette stepped up in a huge way to help the Bucs’ offense. He was efficient running the ball and also provided an important role in the pass game as well. When Fournette got going, he really opened things up for the rest of the Bucs offense. Tampa Bay needed a game like this from Fournette with Jones out, and he delivered. He finished the game with 132 total yards and a touchdown.
WR Mike Evans
Evans proved once again why he is one of the toughest players in football, a future Bucs’ Ring Of Honor member, and a potential future Hall of Famer. After hyperextending his knee a week ago, Evans gutted it out and had a dominant second half of football, going for 104 yards on five receptions after the break. He had a key 35-yard reception late in the game that helped set up the Bucs for a field goal to give them an eight-point lead. Evans ended the game with six catches for 119 yards, which was a new Bucs’ record for most receiving yards in a postseason game. At this point in his career, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing Evans shatter a different record almost every year.
LT Donovan Smith
Heading into this game, all the talk was about Washington’s edge rushers and how the Bucs are really going to need Donovan Smith to step up. That’s exactly what Smith did, as he played some of his best football when it mattered most. Smith was a brick well when it came to protecting Tom Brady, as no one was getting by him. Everyone wanted to talk about Chase Young “wanting” Brady, but he never got to him, and that was largely because of how well Smith played. If he can continue to play at that level for the remainder of the postseason, the Bucs will be in good shape from a protection standpoint on the outside.
TE Cam Brate
It was quite the night for Brate as he saved his best game of the season for the playoffs. Brate was a reliable target for Brady all night, making some crucial third down receptions in the second half to put the Bucs in scoring situations. Brate got lost in the shuffle this season with so many weapons and additions to the offense, but he was a focal point in this game. Brate’s stat line was four receptions for 80 yards.
QB Tom Brady
Brady had some dropped passes by the receivers, but he did exactly what Tampa Bay brought him here to do – win playoff games and come up in the clutch. Facing a tough defensive front from Washington, he still went on to throw for 381 yards and two touchdowns. Brady had a perfect downfield throw to Evans late in the fourth quarter that was right on the money and got the Bucs closer to field goal range to make it an eight point lead. It was a big play when the Bucs needed it most.
LB Lavonte David
The defense played poorly against backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke, but with the game on the line it was David who made the big play to seal it for the Bucs. As Tampa Bay struggled to contain the scrambling quarterback, David got a crucial sack on Heinicke off the blitz on the final drive of the game while Washington had no timeouts left. It put Washington in a fourth-and-21 situation, which essentially ended the game. This was a long time coming for David, who’s been a leader for this team and finally reached the postseason for the first time in his nine-year career. He was tied for the team lead in tackles with nine, along with a sack and a pass breakup.
Honorable Mention: LB Kevin Minter, K Ryan Succop