By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Predictably, in the moments after the Buccaneers beat the sub-.500 Washington Football Team by just eight points, lots of folks in the football world were quick to roll their eyes and scoff at this unimpressive feat for Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Football Team.
Short of Brady throwing for 900 yards and 10 touchdowns, that was always going to be the instant response. Even then, it only would have been against Washington.
But most of the critics probably weren’t fully aware that the Washington Football Team ranked second in the NFL in total defense, second in points allowed, second in passing yards allowed, sixth in third down defense, sixth in red zone defense and fourth in points allowed.
The Washington defense? Pretty good!
Of course, some of those numbers were surely inflated by virtue of playing in the NFC East. Going up against Daniel Jones, Andy Dalton, Carson Wentz, and a Jalen Hurts/Nate Sudfeld combination surely vaulted WFT up the rankings a few spots. No doubt. But the point is, even if you slide them down five slots as an adjustment, it’s still a very strong defense.
So strong, in fact, that only two quarterbacks threw for 300 or more yards against them this season. Jared Goff threw for 309 yards way back in Week 5, and Ben Roethlisberger threw for 305 yards in Week 13.
Yet on Saturday night, the 43-year-old Tom Brady threw for 381 yards. And that was despite a handful of drops from his teammates.
Wow. That was Brady’s fourth-highest single-game total for passing yards in a playoff game. Didn’t expect that.
1. SB52 vs. PHI: 505
2. SB51 vs. ATL: 455
3. 2016 AFCCG vs. PIT: 384
4. 2020 WC @ WSH: 381
5. 2014 DIV. vs. BAL: 367
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) January 10, 2021
The quarterback was good. Here was his best work.
Of course, this was a tight game. Taylor Heinicke was surprisingly good. Ke’Shawn Vaughn lost a fumble. The aforementioned Tampa drops were a killer.
And Tampa had a real chance of potentially losing in the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2007.
Brady made sure that wouldn’t happen in the fourth quarter, and he looked toward Mr. Buc, Mike Evans, to make it happen.
On a second-and-8 from his own 25-yard line, leading by just five points, Brady made sure that Washington wouldn’t sniff a victory. Brady took a low shotgun snap, looked up the field, and absolutely dropped one in the bucket for his big-bodied receiver. It was perfect.
Earlier in the game, Brady slightly overthrew Evans down the field, as Evans was dealing with a knee injury suffered last weekend. Whether Brady recalculated his diagnostics or if Evans gave a little extra oomph on this one, it doesn’t matter. The end result did.
(This must have been a nice night for Evans. He amassed over 7,000 yards and scored 48 touchdowns from 2014-19 despite having some bad quarterbacks. This year, he got Brady, and he got a taste of the playoffs, and he got a playoff victory with 119 receiving yards to boot.)
Brady and the Bucs had a first down at the Washington 40-yard line. They’d end up driving to the 19-yard line, forcing Washington to use its three timeouts, and kicking a field goal to go up by eight points with 2:49 left to play.
Have you ever watched old guys throw footballs? It’s an ugly thing. Peyton Manning’s final year (with nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions) was gross. Brett Favre’s last season was a dud. Phillip Rivers trying to heave the ball farther than 15 yards on Sunday afternoon in Buffalo was a grisly scene. Even video game guys like Drew Brees don’t look too hot throwing the deep out these days. It generally requires a little extra giddy-up, and it never looks natural.
Do you what old guys don’t usually do? They typically don’t slide left and then throw across their body to a receiver who is 17 yards beyond the line of scrimmage near the opposite boundary.
This pass was slick:
That’s some impressive arm strength for any quarterback. For a 43-year-old, it’s just silly.
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Brady was 2-for-5 for 32 yards on the opening drive, firing a couple of passes out of the back of the end zone before Tampa settled for a field goal. Tampa’s second drive ended in a punt.
The third drive was imperiled, too, with Brady staring at a third-and-10 at his own 42-yard line. Tampa needed a spark. Brady had it.
The QB went through his progressions and appeared to want to let one rip to Scotty Miller, but he had to holster the pass because Ryan Kerrigan reached up to block the passing lane.
Brady took the extra second, kept his feet under him, and though he couldn’t step into the pass the way he would have wanted, he delivered an absolute heater to Miller, who had run a 15-yard comeback.
Tony Dungy said “that was an unbelievable ball by Tom Brady” on the broadcast, which must have caused him physical pain.
Admittedly, we’re going to need the all-22 on this one before the praise is deemed worthy. But at first glance, it looked like Brady was at work as a master manipulator when he found Antonio Brown wide open for the game’s first touchdown.
On a third-and-3 from the Washington 36-yard line, Brady took a snap from under center and faked a handoff. That’s where the play gets interesting.
Brady quickly glanced right to see how the defense played Antonio Brown. Brady then immediately jerked his head to the left. It’s likely that Brady did that in order to draw the defense’s attention to the other side, knowing full well that he’d be going back to the right side with the pass.
Watch it in live motion:
📺: https://t.co/YTsdMJXTRR pic.twitter.com/oUZTs50zeK
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) January 10, 2021
Now watch it slowed down, focusing on Brady’s head:
You can see Ronald Darby is very late in getting anywhere near Brown. It probably wasn’t his responsibility. He’s not a safety. But by looking left for as long as Brady did, the quarterback ensured that nobody on Washington would sniff out what was happening and get a jump.
Guys don’t generally just happen to get so wide open, and considering there’s no quarterback with Brady’s pre-snap CPU, it feels safe to give him some credit for this one. (If this turns out to just be a blown coverage … then disregard.)
For Brady, this was super easy. For most quarterbacks, it’s a fairly easy throw.
It was still money.
Nothing to go crazy about right there. Just a pretty ball.
SHOULDA BEEN A TUD
Drops were a big part of this game.
Not an easy catch. That thing was humming. So that’s not really the point.
The point is … you can’t throw a better ball than that.
Brady hit Rob Gronkowski under the goalposts on the next play, but Gronk came down with a foot out of bounds. The Bucs had to settle for a field goal.
Once again, this one isn’t a mind-blowing throw (unless you consider the age of the man throwing it), but watch the footwork. The spring in Brady’s step allowed him to complete a full spin after the play-fake to Leonard Fournette. With his eyes up the field, Brady planted his right foot, got his body in perfect position, took two hops toward his target and delivered an absolute rope to Cameron Brate.
It’s a footwork clinic, folks.
Two snaps later, he was back at it. Watch how he calmly steps up just enough to evade Chase Young before splitting the linebackers with a bullet to Brate just before big defensive tackle Tim Settle hits him in the pocket.
The calmness in that pocket and the patience to wait for Brate to get open in just the right spot is a thing of beauty.
ANOTHER BUCKET DROP
Really not trying to pick on Chris Godwin here, as he was Mr. Reliable for Brady all year. But this drop was a big one.
It was a drop, so it’s not worth celebrating. But another drop in the bucket by Brady like that, it has to make this list. A perfect pass.
Put it all together, and Brady had a solid night by any standard. By the 43-year-old-who’s-still-somehow-winning-playoff-games-against-top-defenses standard, well, Brady was once again in a class unto himself.
You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.