Brady outduels Heinicke, leads Buccaneers past Washington

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (81) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Tom Brady (12) during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Washington Football Team, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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.