This past weekend we kicked off the NFL’s Super Wild Card weekend. The first of its kind where there are now 7 teams in each conference with only one team getting a bye. This is important as the Bucs went on the road to face off against the Washington Football Team. Even though Tampa Bay had the better record, they traveled to the NFC East division winner’s stadium to play. Tom Brady is 1-3 against the NFC East in the postseason, whom he had only faced in the Super Bowl prior.
To start the game, the Bucs tried to make it a point to establish the run. Once it was established, they seemed to hurry up the tempo and catch the Washington defensive front unsettled and off guard. The conditioning of these athletes should never be questioned, but it was tested here early on. Ronald Jones also got hurt early on and did not return, so the load was given to Leonard Fournette. He is more than capable, and he showed his worth on why he was such a valuable pick up for Tampa later on in the offseason.
Brady was able to find his amazing trio of receivers and they all had big games. Chris Godwin dropped a few easy ones, but still managed to end the game with 5 catches, 79 yards, and a touchdown. Mike Evans who was a game time decision coming into the game, ended up with 6 catches 119 yards. Antonio Brown ended the game with 2 catches, 49 yards and an early touchdown catch that broke the game open. He also had a 22 yard carry on a jet sweep which was one of the biggest plays of the game for the Bucs.
Washington had it going with their late game time decision to scratch Alex Smith seemingly paying off. It’s hard to imagine Smith having a better day than Taylor Heinickie who ended the game with 306 passing yards and having both a touchdown and an interception. His biggest contributing factor to the game was his legs and the ability to extend plays. He ended the game with 6 carries, 46 yards, and touchdown. Alex Smith’s mobility has been hindered after his numerous leg surgeries, but Heinickie was moving and grooving all night.
Eventually, the Bucs made him make sound decisions and stopped blitzing him outside of the pocket to break contain. Once they did this, he showed great poise and continued to keep the game close along with the help of their defense holding the Bucs scoreless in the third quarter.
The Bucs proved to have too much firepower for them, as the final score was 31-23 in a game that could’ve gone either way. The back and forthness of the game should come as no surprise, as Bruce Arians has not been able to consistently coach a complete game against a playoff team all year. Also, the lack of film on Taylor Heinickie proved to be an issue for Todd Bowles and the defense. Bruce Arians came out and stated that they were hoping that Alex Smith played so they did not have to gameplan against a mobile QB.
With a Saints victory over the Bears on Wild Card Weekend, the Bucs will travel to New Orleans for the divisional round. Tampa Bay is the host city for this year’s Super Bowl, so if the Bucs can pull off two more wins, they will have home field advantage in the grandest stage of them all.