Tom Brady caught the low, off-balance snap to the left, recognized the man coverage, and then took the shot.
It was all over from there.
Up 28-23 after a Washington touchdown, the Bucs faced a 2nd 8 at their own 25. With just over 4:00 to play, the Bucs were in need of a big play.
So they dialed up a shot to their best receiver. A guy named Mike Evans, who just set an NFL record with seven straight 1,000 yard seasons to start a career. A guy who was questionable to play all week after hyperextending his knee just six days ago.
A guy, who like most of the Bucs’ roster, had never been to the playoffs until Brady arrived.
It was a perfect throw and Evans had his man beat. The ball dropped right into the bucket —aka Evans’ arms— and the end result was a 35-yard gain the took the Bucs down to the Washington 40.
This wasn’t just a big play, it was the play that would allow the Bucs to push their five-point lead to eight points. It’s the play that gave the Bucs an opportunity to blitz Taylor Heinicke and the Washington offense on three of Washington’s final six snaps and all three of Washington’s snaps once the team crossed midfield.
It was the play that won the game.
You expect this from Brady. On a night filled with mistakes, he was the calming presence and kept the ship afloat. You also expect this from Evans —if you’re a Bucs fan— to an extent. He’s made big plays and clutch catches throughout his career.
But to do it after suffering the injury he did on Sunday puts Saturday’s performance in a different category. This wasn’t his only catch of the game. Evans also led the team in both receptions and yards with six catches for 119 yards on 10 targets. At the time of publication, he’s second in the NFL in playoff receiving yards, just eight shy of leader Stefon Diggs.
“It’s a huge night for him. We always say how tough he is – he was probably 85 [to] 90 percent, which for Mike, that’s great. He played most of the season at 70 [percent healthy],” Bruce Arians said after the game. “We had that one go off his fingertips that I thought he was going to get, but I can’t say enough about him gutting it out and playing great.”
Brady threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns. He currently has the most yards and the third-highest QBR rating of any quarterback that played on Saturday. He’s tied for the most passing touchdowns, as well.
This is what playoff football is about and the Bucs are going to need these heroic performances if they want to keep playing in January. The Bucs know this and expect nothing less.
“You could win 100-0 and 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. If we don’t play well next week, we’re not going to be happy,” Brady told reporters after the game. “[I’m] glad we won [and] glad we have another week of work. We’re going to go in there and try to do a much better job this week and get ready for whoever our opponent is – it’s going to be a good one. We’re going to have to go play great football.”