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Wild Card Round - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Washington Football Team Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Buccaneers of the Playoffs: at Washington

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Saturday’s Wild Card win over Washington?

Playing in their first playoff game since January of 2008 on Saturday night, the Buccaneers beat the Washington Football Team 31-23 for their first playoff win since January of 2003. With the win, Tampa Bay advanced to the NFC Divisional Round, setting up a date with the Saints in New Orleans next Sunday.

The Bucs got all they could handle from Taylor Heinicke and Washington in Saturday’s Wild Card game. They had two separate nine-point leads in the first half, but they struggled to put the game away. Even a 12-point fourth-quarter lead wasn’t safe as Washington managed to cut the deficit to five with 4:51 left. But in the end, Tampa Bay hung on, survived and advanced. That’s the name of the game in the playoffs. Now, the Bucs get their third shot at beating the Saints. This time, a spot in the NFC Championship Game will be on the line.

Before we move on to Bucs-Saints III, let’s take another look at Saturday’s performance, shall we? Even though we’ve already named the Buccaneer of the Year for 2020 through the regular season standings, we’re bringing Buccaneers of the Week into the postseason for the first time ever!

If anyone’s new around here for the playoffs, here’s how this works: I’ll rank the top five Buccaneers from each week’s game, assigning point values for each. No. 5 gets one point, No. 4 gets two and so on. The cumulative totals will be added up in the Buccaneers of the Playoffs Standings. For reference, the past Buccaneers of the Year winners are as follows: Mike Evans (2018), Shaquil Barrett (2019) and Tom Brady (2020). OK, let’s get it going.

Honorable Mentions

Despite four uncharacteristic drops, Chris Godwin still totaled 79 yards and a touchdown on five catches... Antonio Brown caught two passes for 49 yards and a touchdown while adding 22 yards on one carry... Tristan Wirfs had a phenomenal game at right tackle, as he more than held his own despite drawing a tough assignment in Montez Sweat... The rest of the Tampa Bay offensive line held up well against Washington’s tough defensive front as well, but more on that later... Ryan Succop may have had an extra point blocked, but he came through in a big way for the Bucs by making all four of his field goal attempts...

Lavonte David, finally getting a chance to play in the playoffs for the first time, led the Buccaneer defense as usual. He totaled a team-high nine tackles (eight solo), a pass defended and a key sack that sealed the victory... Even though he only played 14 snaps, Mike Edwards had a solid game, finishing as the defense’s highest-graded player per Pro Football Focus, earning a 91.3... Carlton Davis broke up two passes in the game... Antoine Winfield Jr. totaled two tackles for loss in his playoff debut... Sean Murphy-Bunting picked up 0.5 tackles for loss and a key first-quarter interception... Anthony Nelson picked up a sack as well.

5. Cameron Brate (One point)

Rob Gronkowski was tasked with blocking for most of the night against Washington, leaving Cameron Brate free to have a massive impact for the offense. He was a productive target at key moments throughout the night, coming up with four catches for 80 yards. All four of his receptions went for first downs as he averaged 20 yards per catch, with two of those big catches coming on third downs. The Harvard man had two first-down catches on a first-half field goal drive, with one going for 19 yards and another going for 24. He later kept another field goal drive alive with a 23-yard grab. It was seemingly an out-of-nowhere performance for Brate, but it was a welcome one for Tampa Bay. As a result, he gets a point in this week’s standings.

4. Mike Evans (Two points)

Six days before the Bucs’ Wild Card matchup against Washington, Mike Evans left the regular season finale with what looked to be a very bad knee injury. Many initially feared that his season would be over and even when it was reported that he had just hyperextended his knee, there were still questions about whether he would be able to return by Saturday. Well, Evans did return and all he did was put up a six-catch, 119-yard night to set a new franchise record for receiving yards in a postseason game. It was a gutsy performance for the seventh-year receiver, and his biggest catch of the night came in one of the biggest moments. With the Bucs leading by just five late in the fourth quarter, they needed to burn some clock. A first-down run made it appear that they were going conservative, but then a 35-yard catch by Evans turned things around for the drive. A couple of minutes ended up being taken off the clock and Tampa Bay managed to extend its lead to eight as a result of the big play. And for his impressive effort on one good leg, Evans gets two points in the standings.

3. Leonard Fournette (Three points)

Leonard Fournette has been called on to replace Ronald Jones II a couple of times this season, but none of those times quite compared to Saturday night. Jones ended up sidelined with an injury, leaving the Bucs with just two running backs—Fournette and rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn. As one of the few on the team with playoff experience, the former LSU standout took on a big role and paid it off. He ran for 93 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries while catching all four of his targets for 39 yards. With the pass rush from Washington looking to be a big factor in the game, Fournette was key in the passing game. Averaging 9.8 yards per catch, he picked up some hard-earned yards and kept drives alive for the offense. His fourth-quarter touchdown also gave Tampa Bay some breathing room when it needed some. It was a big night for the former Jacksonville Jaguar, and he gets three points in the standings to add to it.

2. Donovan Smith (Four points)

Now, in the three seasons that this Buccaneers of the Week series has been around, it’s been hard to narrow it down and give a lot of individual love to offensive linemen. The offensive line as a unit has gotten points for big performances, but there hasn’t been an individual who landed in the top five... until now. Donovan Smith went out and played a fantastic game, silencing a lot of doubters in the process. When rookie phenom Chase Young proclaimed that he was coming after the G.O.A.T. a week before Saturday’s game, many wondered how Smith would handle the challenge. He more than handled it, holding Young to no sacks and no quarterback hits. The 2020 No. 2 overall pick only managed two quarterback hurries on the night. Perhaps big No. 76 took the rookie’s words a bit personally? It sure seemed like he did. Getting help from Rob Gronkowski definitely helped, but Smith was on his game regardless. There’s no doubt that he proved it on the field and his four points in this week’s standings are definitely deserved.

1. Tom Brady (Five points)

With the Bucs making their first playoff appearance in 13 years, it was always going to be playoff veteran Tom Brady leading the way for them. The six-time Super Bowl champion and nine-time AFC champion showed up big for Tampa Bay against Washington, completing 22 of his 40 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns while not turning the ball over. Those numbers are pretty impressive as they are, but he also was a victim of some dropped passes in the game. He would’ve certainly ended up with well over 400 yards and likely another touchdown without those drops, but the G.O.A.T. was on fire regardless. He earned his 31st postseason win, extending the NFL record for playoff wins by a quarterback that he set a long time ago. Brady’s experience is a huge x-factor for Tampa Bay as its playoff run continues, and it’s perhaps fitting that our 2020 Buccaneer of the Year takes home the full five points in our first installment of this Buccaneers of the Playoffs series.

Buccaneers of the Playoffs Standings Through Wild Card Weekend

  1. Tom Brady — 5 points
  2. Donovan Smith — 4 points
  3. Leonard Fournette — 3 points
  4. Mike Evans — 2 points
  5. Cameron Brate — 1 point

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