Bucs down Washington, move to Divisional round

Ken Cross

January 12, 2021 at 3:46 pm.

Although the NFC East was markedly the worst division in the NFL this season, the Washington Football Team brought a solid effort on Saturday night in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 31-23 win at FedEx Field.

It was widely thought that this would be a waltz for the Buccaneers who were making their first appearance in the NFL playoffs since 2007, but it unfolded as a slow dance that ended happily in sending the Bucs to the divisional playoffs next week.

The game ended with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ first playoff win since 2002 as their offense piled up 507 yards, got off to a quick start, then staved off a third quarter Washington rally.

Quarterback Tom Brady has enjoyed a plethora of weapons all season and that was underscored Saturday night when Ronald Jones suffered a quad injury in the first quarter before he even got his first carry.

Leonard Fournette provided the running game as he posted 93 yards on 19 carries, including a key fourth quarter touchdown that put Washington at a distance even though it looked like they might back the Buccaneers down and be in position to record a major upset.

“Leonard played great – probably the best he played all year,“ said coach Bruce Arians. “Knew it was going to be a big game – we only had two backs. I hated the Ke’Shawn (Vaughn) fumble because he was playing well. Couldn’t say enough about Leonard and how he stepped up.”

Fournette’s presence allowed Brady to attack downfield where he found wide receiver Mike Evans six times for 119 yards. Evans had hyperextended his left knee on the slick end zone at Raymond James Stadium in last week’s win over the Falcons.

Brady threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns as tight end Cameron Brate (4-80) once again became a presence in the passing game, while Chris Godwin (5-79) gave Brady a consistent and steady option even though he had a couple of dropped balls.

“It’s a huge night for him,” Arians said of Evans. “We always say how tough he is. He was probably 85-90 percent, which for Mike, that’s great. He played most of the season at 70.”

Getting Fournette and Evans on track was a crucial piece of what Tampa Bay had to do against a Washington front-seven that has grown into one of the best in the league behind Chase Young, Montez Sweat and John Bostic.

“Defensively, they presented a big challenge with the guys they have up front.” said tight end Cameron Brate. “We didn’t play our best game, but at this point of the year, a win is a win. So, we’re pretty fired up about that.”

Brate found himself back on the radar after a quiet season as the 80 receiving yards were his most on the year. He caught passes of 19 and 24 yards to set up a Ryan Succop field goal late in the first half which gave Tampa Bay an 18-7 lead at halftime.

“I just feel like throughout the year – just with the options that we have on offense – Mike, Chris, A.B. (Antonio Brown) and Gronk (Rob Gronkowski), those guys are typically the first read,” said Brate. “Cool with me because those guys typically win pretty much every route.”

The Buccaneers’ offensive weaponry make them a threat to get deep into the playoffs and potentially to the Super Bowl. The difference is in how Brady grounds the superstars he has around him which lets everyone fall in position during a game and be effective.

“You’d love to play great every game – I think it’s good to win and advance,” said Brady. “If we don’t play well next week, we’re not going to be happy. Glad we won and glad we have another week of work.”