Old hat for Brady, new thrills for Buffalo.
And a defensive gem by the Rams.
The first tripleheader of NFL wild-card games saw Tom Brady extend his postseason record for victories to 31 with a 31-23 win for Tampa Bay at Washington on Saturday. Brady was the key to New England winning six Super Bowls and making nine overall, and now he has taken the Buccaneers (12-5) to their first playoff victory since their 2002 run to the NFL title.
After a quarter-century, the Bills got one of those triumphs that Brady collects — and they even figured out how to stop a Hail Mary.
Buffalo (14-3) snapped a 0-6 postseason skid with a 27-24 victory Saturday over Indianapolis (11-6). The previous playoff win was over Miami on Dec. 30, 1995. And it came in the Bills’ first home playoff game in 24 years, with a limited number of fans in attendance (6,700) for the first time this season.
Los Angeles (11-6) rattled Russell Wilson and dominated even though it was without unanimous All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald for much of the second half of a 30-20 victory at Seattle. A pick-6 by Darious Williams was a major contributor, as were five sacks, two by Donald.
Brady threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns in his 42nd postseason start and first not in a New England uniform. He used all of his weapons well, from receivers Mike Evans, Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin to tight end Cameron Brate and running back Leonard Fournette.
But Tampa Bay's defense got leaky and Washington’s unheralded Taylor Heinicke, in his second pro start in place of injured starter Alex Smith, ran for 46 yards and a touchdown and threw for 306 yards and a score.
In the end, though, it was another W for Brady.
“He is a fighter, he plays hard, works hard and studies hard,” Fournette said of Brady, “and he is the man for the job.”
Well, yeah — for two decades.
Josh Allen threw two touchdown passes, scored another rushing, and Micah Hyde batted down Philip Rivers’ desperation pass to end the game. Buffalo will host an AFC divisional-round game.
“It doesn’t matter how it looks," Allen said. "It’s the playoffs. It’s win or go home and we got it done. We’ve got to turn our focus to whoever we got next week.”
In Buffalo's last loss before winning its next six games and the AFC East crown, Hyde was one of three defenders who failed to knock down the ball. DeAndre Hopkins’ 43-yard leaping catch on Kyler Murray's desperation throw — the “Hail Murray” — won that game for Arizona. The Bills learned from it, and Philip River's heave for T. Y. Hilton was incomplete.
“It’s been a long time since Bills Mafia has been able to celebrate like this," Allen said. “But it’s one game.”
“A lot of guys stepped up and answered the bell in a big way,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “Darious Williams showing up, I thought that was a huge momentum shift for us.”
Cam Akers rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown, and Jared Goff, though shaky for portions of the game, replaced injured starting quarterback John Wolford early on and avoided major mistakes. Less than two weeks after undergoing surgery on his right thumb, Goff capped the victory with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Robert Woods.
“I think it was really just a stinger. He definitely seemed good,” McVay said of Wolford.
Browns (11-5) at Steelers (12-4)
For their return to the playoffs after a drought beginning in 2003, the Browns will be missing coach Kevin Stefanski and standout guard Joel Bitonio because of COVID-19 issues, and they aren't all that healthy otherwise. They barely practiced this week.
Perhaps of help is their familiarity with their archrivals, who won the AFC North but lost four of their final five after going 11-0. Cleveland also edged Pittsburgh in the season finale, but the Steelers rested many regulars, including QB Ben Roethlisberger and All-Pro edge rusher T.J. Watt.
Key to this matchup could be the ground games. Cleveland is strong with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, while Pittsburgh struggles.
Chicago (8-8) at New Orleans (12-4)
Although the Saints needed overtime to beat the Bears in November, they are solid favorites here after winning their fourth straight NFC South crown. Drew Brees likely is in his final playoff run and has supreme weapons in record-tying RB Alvin Kamara and, if healthy, wideout Michael Thomas.
Plus, New Orleans has a defense in many ways as staunch as Chicago's. The Bears need their defense to be at its best because other than WR Allen Robinson, they have few threats. They are the third team since the 1970 merger to reach the playoffs after a six-game losing streak.
Ravens (11-5) at Titans (11-5)
They met in the divisional playoffs last year and Derrick Henry ran all over the Ravens for 195 yards. They met in the regular season and the All-Pro running back had 133 yards in November’s OT win on his way to a 2,000-yard season.
Baltimore has its own highly efficient running game, a three-pronged operation featuring quarterback Lamar Jackson and RBs Gus Edwards and rookie J.K. Dobbins. The Ravens averaged an NFL-best 191.9 yards rushing per game and their 3,071 yards rushing were third highest in NFL history.
Oddly, this is the fifth playoff meeting, and the road team won each of the first four.
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