NFL

NFL Playoffs: Brady stars as Buccaneers beat Washington

Tom Brady produced a masterful display as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pulled away from the Washington Football Team to advance in the playoffs.

NFL Playoffs: Brady shines as Buccaneers outclass Washington

Tom Brady posted a vintage post-season performance as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held off the Washington Football Team, 31-23, in the Wild Card round to advance in the NFL playoffs.

The 43-year-old showed his class at FedExField and clinched his 31st post-season victory, his first for the fifth-seed Bucs, while throwing for 381 yards and recording his 75th career post-season touchdown with scoring passes to Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin.

Led by rookie revelation Chase Young, Washington’s defense kept the NFC East champions in contention and stand-in quarterback Taylor Heinicke led an impressive comeback attempt but was unable to force Ron Rivera’s side back into the Wild Card contest.

Brady, 43, became the oldest player to throw a pass in an NFL playoff game as he led the Bucs on a 55-yard opening drive for a field goal before Heinicke, replacing starter Alex Smith who was sidelined with a calf injury, raced into Tampa Bay territory but his tipped pass ended up in the hands of Sean Murphy-Bunting for an interception.

Ex-Patriots signal caller, Brady, took advantage of the strong field position to find wide receiver Brown with a 36-yard play-action pass to extend the lead to nine, as kicker Ryan Succop’s extra point was blocked.

Bucs defence coordinator Todd Bowles was dialling up pressure to force Heinicke to throw but the Washington QB, who once spent three weeks training alongside Brady on the New England practise squad, showed good poise to lead a 75-yard touchdown drive downfield with JD McKissic finishing from two yards to make it 9-7.

On his second NFL start, Heinicke was battling to match the six-time Super Bowl winner for production as Brady went five-for-five, firing a 27-yard laser for Godwin to score, before Washington produced a goal-line stand and field goals were traded as the Bucs led 18-10 midway through the third quarter.

Rivera’s outfit refused to lie down and Heinicke made it 18-16 on a thrilling eight-yard touchdown scramble but a second Ryan Succop field goal and Leonard Fournette's powerful short-yardage touchdown run once again kept Washington at arms length at 28-16.

Heinicke found Steven Sims Jr for a late touchdown grab to move past 300 passing yards but the Bucs had the final word as Succop posted his third field goal and Bruce Arians’ side used their big-game experience to close out the win.

Brady leads masteful fourth-quarter TD drive to extend lead

After the spirited Heinicke launched himself full-length at the pylon to reduce the score to 18-16, Rivera's side clearly believed they could add a magical chapter to a season of turmoil in Washington.

But the unflappable Brady showed his ruthless side in the fourth quarter, leading a 55-yard field-goal drive and then a 69-yard touchdown charge, handing the ball to Fournette to extend the advantage.

Brady's 20-yard deep shot to Mike Evans to launch the crucial drive sucked the life out of Washington and the veteran field general added plays of 17 and 19 yards in his march up the field.

Brady claims more post-season records

Tom Brady’s 36-yard strike to Antonio Brown made him the oldest player to throw a post-season touchdown pass in NFL history at 43 years and 159 years, overtaking George Blanda (43 years, 108 days) who set the record in the 1970 AFC Championship game.

After leading the league in downfield passes (of 20+ yards) in 2020 with 88 attempts, Brady threw for two 20+ yard touchdowns in a post-season game for the first time in his career against Washington.

What's next?

The Bucs will either go on the road to face the New Orleans Saints, and a potential Brady-Drew Brees encounter, or host the LA Rams back at Raymond James Stadium.

After using four starting quarterbacks in 2020, Rivera must decide who will be his leader under centre as the Washington Football Team head into a new era.