The biggest takeaway from watching the first playoff win in 18 years for the Buccaneers was that the postseason is indeed an entirely different animal. Like being out in the wild (or rather, Wildcard), it's all about, "survive and advance." And that's just what the Bucs were able to do on Saturday night.
They survived, even when Washington pulled with two points at the end of the third quarter after the Bucs had led by as many as 11 earlier in the game.
See, that's when having a quarterback with nearly two decades of postseason experience comes in handy, which brings us to the first of our three major takeaways from the Buccaneers 'wild' Wildcard win in Washington.
1. Tom Brady has clearly been here before.
I've said it before, but I don't think Brady even knows how to panic. After getting off to a relatively good start, the Bucs found themselves with 18 points in the first half and holding an 11-point lead over the Football Team. But then Washington would start to close that gap, beginning in the third quarter. First, a field goal, then, a touchdown, until the Buccaneers had just a two-point advantage. It would have actually been tied had Washington been able to convert their two-point attempt, which was thankfully unsuccessful due to safety Jordan Whitehead immediately meeting tight end Logan Thomas after the catch, along with a swarm of Buccaneer defenders.
But this is when the Comeback Kid shines. On the possession immediately following the Washington touchdown, Brady drove down the field and got some points. Had it not been for an untimely second-down sack that forced Tampa Bay into third and long, the Bucs may have ended the drive in the end zone instead of settling for a field goal, but points were points and it gave the Bucs some breathing room.
From there, a quick three-and-out by Washington thanks to the Bucs' defense gave Brady an opportunity that he'd capitalize on to the fullest extent this time. He led a seven-play, 69-yard touchdown drive that ended with a three-yard Leonard Fournette run into the end zone and gave the Bucs their largest lead of the game with just over nine minutes left. One more field goal would be the cherry on top and the game would end in a victory formation for the Bucs.
Brady's day individually ended with 381 passing yards, which is the most in a single game in Buccaneers postseason history. He extended his NFL record for playoff touchdown passes to a ridiculous 75, which is a full 30 ahead of Joe Montana, who comes in at second. Brady has also now recorded at least 200 passing yards in the first half of each of Tampa Bay's last three games, matching the longest such streak of his career.
He also fed the ball to wide receiver Mike Evans, who had hyperextended his knee not even a week earlier. When he was announced as active, many thought maybe Evans would be out there as a decoy and force the Washington defense to account for him and draw defenders from the guys who would actually shoulder the load.
Brady's first completion of the night went to Evans as the quarterback trusted his number one receiver fully. Evans ended the night with the most single-game receiving yards in a playoff game for the Buccaneers with 119. And if that wasn't enough, Brady got tight end Cameron Brate involved, too. So involved, in fact, that Brate lands in the top five of that aforementioned list that Evans now leads, tallying 80 receiving yards of his own – which is the second-most in a postseason game for a Buccaneer tight end.
2. Running the ball is more important in the postseason.
Give a huge shoutout to the Bucs' offensive line who not only kept very loud Washington rookie Chase Young quiet all night, thanks largely to the efforts of Donovan Smith, but also set up some impressive offensive performances like Leonard Fournette's 132 yards from scrimmage. Fournette had 93 yards on the ground as part of a 142-yard ground performance by the Buccaneers overall. The Bucs averaged nearly five yards on the ground per play all game. It helped the Bucs win the time of possession battle, 31:12 to 28:48, too.
And that's good news because running the football matters in the postseason. If you look at what happened to the Tennessee Titans this weekend, who have the most productive running back by far in the league in Derrick Henry, their downfall to the Ravens was that he was rendered ineffective. Baltimore made sure to not allow anything on the ground and the Titans faltered because of it. Now bring it back to the game in Washington, where the Buccaneers' defense again had a stand-up performance against the run, allowing just 86 yards to Washington runners. Heck, their quarterback was their top rusher. Take the unanticipated Taylor Heinicke out of it and Washington's ground ace, Antonio Gibson, had just 31 yards on 14 carries. That's just 2.2 yards per attempt. Stopping the run put all the pressure on Heinicke to win it and in the end, no matter how much better he performed than was expected, it proved to be too much for the inexperienced signal caller.
View some of the most crucial moments from the Buccaneers-Washington wild card matchup in picture form.
3. Kicking matters and Ryan Succop has been tremendous.
Speaking of things that matter – Ryan Succop hit all four of his field goal attempts for the Bucs on Saturday night. That is the most in a single game in Bucs' postseason history. He also had playoff experience going into this game, having now made a field goal in a playoff game for three different teams. With the four kicks in the Wildcard round, Succop is now 8-for-8 in the postseason in his career.
That's impressive and we aren't talking enough about him. Succop won Special Teams Player of the Week to close out the regular season after making three field goals against Atlanta. Because of that performance, he now holds the record for most points in a single season in Bucs history after he surpassed Matt Bryant's record of 131 in Week 17. As a Buccaneer, Succop has a 90.3% field goal success rate. I know he uncharacteristically had an extra point attempt blocked in Saturday's game but he has a 96.3% career success rate in extra points.
And how starved has this franchise been for a reliable kicker? You have one, Bucs fans. So, let's appreciate him a little