LANDOVER, Md. — New team, same swashbuckling playoff success for Tom Brady.
Brady threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers past Washington 31-23 in their NFC wild-card game Saturday night for their first playoff victory since the 2002 season. Brady was critical of his play and the offense’s performance in the red zone but relished picking up his 31st career postseason win.
“Certainly a lot to improve on, but great to get a win,” said Brady, who was 22 of 40 passing. “If you could win 100-0, it’s going to be the same result in the end. You’d love to play great every game. I think it’s good to win and advance.”
In his 42nd postseason start and first not in a New England Patriots uniform, Brady made the most of a lack of early pressure to build a lead against the NFL’s second-ranked defense that held up.
“He is a fighter, he plays hard, works hard and studies hard, and he is the man for the job,” Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette said.
Brady had to outduel Washington’s Taylor Heinicke, who had a breakout performance in just his second pro start and first in the playoffs in place of injured starter Alex Smith. Heinicke — signed in early December to the practice squad — ran for 46 yards and a touchdown and threw for 306 yards and a score.
“He almost beat us with his legs,” Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said. “He was very elusive. We knew he was going to scramble around, there was going to be bootlegs and scrambles. We were really hoping for Alex because we knew that part of the game wasn’t going to be in there.”
But Heinicke wasn’t enough to overcome Brady’s off-and-on brilliance. While Bill Belichick and the Patriots watch from home with their playoff streak snapped at 11 following a 7-9 season, Brady has the opportunity to play in another Super Bowl — in his new home stadium.
“We’re thrilled with the win,” Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate said. “I hate to say that we’re relieved, but at this point we’re just pumped we got the win. No matter how ugly it was, no matter how many mistakes we made, a win’s a win this time of year.”
The Buccaneers await the result of Chicago at New Orleans on Sunday to see if they’ll be visiting Drew Brees and the Saints or host the Los Angeles Rams next weekend. They’d need a Bears upset to play at home in the divisional round.
“It doesn’t matter,” Arians said. “We’re playing. That’s all that matters.”
Age doesn’t seem to matter much to Brady, who at 43 years, 159 days passed George Blanda as the oldest player to throw a TD pass in a playoff game. A 36-yard scoring connection with Antonio Brown was Brady’s longest in the playoffs since 2011.
Brady was methodical in the first half with 12 completions for 209 yards and wasn’t sacked until the final minute of the second quarter.
Heinicke made things interesting in the third, most notably scrambling for an 8-yard TD by diving at the pylon in the corner of the end zone. The play even got the attention of reigning Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes, who tweeted, “Bro what!?!?!”
The 27-year-old banged up his left shoulder and didn’t look the same on the next drive. While Heinicke was getting looked at, Brady engineered a 69-yard scoring drive capped by a 3-yard TD run by Fournette, which made it 28-16 and was enough to withstand Heinicke’s attempt to be the unlikely hero.
“He made the throws that he needed to make,” Washington cornerback Kendall Fuller said of Brady.
RAMS 30, SEAHAWKS 20
SEATTLE — Cam Akers rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown, Darious Williams returned Russell Wilson’s interception 42 yards for a score, and the Los Angeles Rams beat the Seattle Seahawks in their NFC wild-card playoff game.
The best defense in the league during the regular season carried its dominance into the playoffs — even while missing unanimous All-Pro tackle Aaron Donald for much of the second half. No team was better at limiting yards or points than the Rams (11-6) and they continued to torment Wilson and the Seahawks (12-5).
Donald, before leaving with a rib injury, and Jalen Ramsey were superb. But so were other role players such as Troy Reeder, Jordan Fuller and Leonard Floyd. Floyd had two of the Rams’ five sacks. Two of the others belonged to Donald. The Rams allowed just 278 total yards and 11 first downs.
Wilson had one of his worst playoff performances. He was 11 of 27 for 174 yards. Wilson connected with Metcalf on a pair of TDs: 51 yards in the first half off a broken play, and a 12-yard TD with 2:28 left to make the score more respectable.
The Rams pulled off the upset without a healthy quarterback for more than three quarters of the game. John Wolford started for the second straight week, but suffered a neck injury when he dived head first in the first quarter and was hit in the helmet by Jamal Adams’ shoulder.
BILLS 27, COLTS 24
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Buffalo earned its first playoff victory in a quarter century when Josh Allen threw two touchdown passes, scored another rushing, and Micah Hyde batted down Philip Rivers’ desperation pass for a win over the Indianapolis in a wild-card game.
Buffalo (14-3) snapped an 0-6 postseason skid by winning its first playoff game since a 37-22 win over Miami on Dec. 30, 1995. And it came in the Bills’ first home playoff game in 24 years, with a limited number of 6,700 fans in attendance for the first time this season.
Allen finished 26 of 35 for 324 yards, with a 5-yard touchdown to Dawson Knox and a 35-yarder to Stefon Diggs.
The game wasn’t decided until the final play, when Rivers faced fourth-and-11 from the Buffalo 47. Rivers heaved a deep pass for T.Y. Hilton, who was surrounded by defenders in the right side of the end zone. Hyde broke through the crowd of bodies, leaping up and batting the ball to the ground.
Rookie kicker Tyler Bass accounted for the decisive points by hitting a 54-yard field goal to put Buffalo up 27-16 with 8:08 remaining.
The Colts (11-6) ended a season in which they won 11 games for the first time since 2014, and reached the playoffs for the second time in three years under coach Frank Reich. Rivers finished 27 of 46 for 309 yards and had his career playoff record drop to 5-7.