Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady leads team to first playoff win since 2002 season

Washington Football Team rookie defensive end Chase Young said all week, "Tom Brady, I'm coming!" and, "I want Tom!" But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback -- playing in his 42nd postseason game and first with the Bucs, at age 43 -- didn't take the bait from last year's No. 2 overall draft pick, offering only the slightest hint of a smirk.

Instead of taking down the six-time Super Bowl winner, Young finished the NFC wild-card game on Saturday night with two quarterbacks pressures and no sacks and was congratulating Brady after the Bucs' 31-23 road win.

"I think it was the biggest storyline of the week, just because one guy says, 'I want Tom [Brady],' all of a sudden," Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said of Young's comments. "They've got a great front. Our guys took it to heart: They were going to block them. I thought we blocked them really, really well. They didn't scare us."

Brady led the Bucs to their first playoff appearance since 2007 and first postseason victory since they won Super Bowl XXXVII during the 2002 campaign.

"Come on, that's Tom Brady," Bucs running back Leonard Fournette said. "I ain't gotta think too much about that. That's the boy. We've got faith in him. We're gonna protect our butts off for him to make sure he gets that throw. That's our job."

Against Washington's vaunted pass rush, which amassed 47.0 sacks in the regular season, Brady dropped back and took deep shots, completing 22 of 40 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns. And he did so without starting running back Ronald Jones II, who suffered a quad injury in warm-ups and was replaced by Fournette, and largely without right guard Alex Cappa, who in the first half suffered a fractured ankle, according to Arians.

"They're a good unit," Tampa Bay left tackle Donovan Smith said of Washington's front four, which was still able to sack Brady three times. "But I'm taking my unit 100 times ... all the time. No matter what. I'm gonna always go to battle with my guys."

On his first touchdown, Brady looked off Washington safety Jeremy Reaves and found Antonio Brown on a wheel route for a 36-yard score. He then hit Chris Godwin on a play-action pass on which Godwin crossed the middle of the field for a 27-yard touchdown.

Godwin finished with 79 receiving yards on the day and Brown 49, with Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans leading the team with six catches on 10 targets for 119 receiving yards. Evans' status had been in jeopardy all week due to a hyperextended left knee suffered in Week 17.

"Mike played his butt off," Brady said. "He got hurt last week. We weren't sure if he was going to go or not. [He] just did an incredible job fighting through it and made a bunch of big plays when we needed it."

It wasn't smooth sailing though. Washington backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who stepped in for Alex Smith, was able to get some chunk plays when the Bucs got aggressive but couldn't get home and made this an uncomfortably close game.

"I think some of our guys -- I don't think veterans did, but some of our younger guys -- might have relaxed when Alex Smith wasn't playing," Arians said. "I kind of kept preaching at them, 'This kid can run; he can do a lot of things.' He almost beat us with his legs.

"I'm never going to apologize for winning, and next week's next week."

Washington also came within two points of the Bucs at the end of the third quarter, after Tampa Bay rookie running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn fumbled with 5:53 to go, with Daron Payne punching the ball loose and Jon Bostic recovering it. Heinicke then evaded the rush from Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul for an 8-yard touchdown run.

There were missed opportunities for the Bucs. When the Bucs went with an empty backfield in the red zone, Brady was sacked by Payne, forcing the Bucs to settle for a field goal. Godwin also had an uncharacteristic four drops. A shaky third quarter gave Washington nine unanswered points, and Heinicke added to that with an 11-yard touchdown to Steven Sims Jr. in the fourth, following a 3-yard touchdown run by Fournette. But Bucs linebacker Lavonte David notched a sack on third-and-10 for an 11-yard loss with 2:22 to go.

"We hit some big plays, made some chunks," Brady said. "I think just not scoring enough in the red [zone] was probably the thing that bothers us, missed a two-point play, had other opportunities to score but just didn't quite take advantage of it. We moved the ball OK. I think we had decent yardage. But at the end of the day, it comes down to points, and we've gotta do a better job scoring more points -- and we'll work on that next week."

The Bucs' next opponent won't be decided until Sunday, but it will be a rematch with a team they've already faced this season.

With the Los Angeles Rams defeating the Seattle Seahawks 30-20 on Saturday, the Bucs would host the Rams next week if the Chicago Bears can beat the New Orleans Saints. The Bucs lost to the Rams 27-24 in Week 11. If the Bears lose at New Orleans, the Bucs would face the Saints on the road. The Bucs were swept by the Saints this season, and Tampa Bay is 0-4 against the Saints since Arians became head coach in 2019.

When asked if he'll be rooting for the Bears to avoid going to play New Orleans, the No. 2 seed, Arians said, "It doesn't matter. We're playing. That's all that matters. Where we go -- I mean, we're a better football team than the last time we played the Saints, if we go there. So it doesn't matter to me."

But when presented with the possibility of a home game, Arians changed his mind.

"Now that part I'll root for," Arians said. "I will root for that, brother."