Tom Brady was not crud last night, for the same reasons he has not been crud for most of the season: He threw the ball accurately, he threw the ball deep, and, most importantly, he had time to throw the ball. He finished the game with 381 yards and two touchdowns, and the Bucs beat the Washington Football Team 31-23. If there’s one surefire way to have a bad time while playing against Brady, it’s to give him a clean pocket.
It was up to Chase Young, the Washington Football Team’s star rookie defensive end, to make Brady unclean. It was a task he seemed confident in completing, so much so that he was yelling, “Tom Brady! Tom Brady, I’m coming. I want Tom! I want Tom!” as he jogged off the field following his team’s Week 17 victory over the Eagles.
That confidence certainly inspired some fantasy scenarios in the heads of WFT fans and Brady-haters in advance of Sunday’s game. It’s okay, you can admit it. You spent 15 minutes on Sunday morning envisioning Brady getting dragged all over the field by Young and the other three first-round picks on Washington’s defensive line. You saw Brady, caked in mud, spazzing out at his offensive line after each sack, and angrily yanking at his chinstrap after each panicked interception.
None of that happened, though. Brady was sacked three times in the game, but he wasn’t hit much more than that and had plenty of time to wait for routes to develop downfield. Brady threw the deep ball with more success than any quarterback in the league during the regular season, and that trend continued on Sunday. Brady threw 23 passes that traveled 10 yards or more in the air, and he completed 13 of them for 280 yards and two touchdowns.
Young, meanwhile, finished the game with one tackle and zero sacks, and found himself at a bit of a disadvantage when matched up against Rob Gronkowski, whose whole reason for being on the field was to help keep Young in check.
It’s something of a cruel twist of fate, then, that Washington’s own quarterback, a practice-squadder named Taylor Heinicke who was making just the second NFL start of his career, ended up keeping Washington in the game. Anyone envisioning a WFT victory after it was announced that starting quarterback Alex Smith couldn’t play was probably seeing something like a 14-10 slopfest, in which a dominant defensive performance and a fluky defensive or return touchdown would deliver the victory. Instead, Heinicke transformed into Lamar Jackson (306 passing yards, 46 rushing yards, and two touchdowns), and it was he who was let down by the rest of the team.
The game was there for the taking, and it could have been had with a well-timed strip sack, or a pass deflected at the line and into the arms of a waiting defender, but the defense just never found a way to stop the Bucs’ offense from rolling. If you want the story of this game in one clean image, it’s that of Young running up the sideline to celebrate with Heinicke after the quarterback’s third-quarter touchdown run cut Tampa’s lead to two.
Brady and the Bucs needed nine plays to travel 55 yards and get a field goal on the next drive, and then just seven plays to go 69 yards and score a touchdown on their next possession. Heinicke got Washington another touchdown, of course, but it wasn’t enough. It was never going to be enough, not as long as Tom Brady was standing comfortably.