Bucs, Bills, Rams advance in NFL playoffs

Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (54), a former University of Georgia star, knocks the ball away as Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson tries to pass during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund)

Credit: AP

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Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (54), a former University of Georgia star, knocks the ball away as Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson tries to pass during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund)

Credit: AP

New team, same swashbuckling playoff success for Tom Brady.

Brady threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers past Washington 31-23 in their NFC wild-card game Saturday night for their first playoff victory since 2002.

In his 42nd postseason start and first not in a New England Patriots uniform, Brady made the most of a lack of pressure to carve up the NFL’s second-ranked defense on 22 of 40 passing in Landover, Md.

He had to outduel Washington’s Taylor Heinicke, who had a breakout performance in just his second pro start and first in the playoffs in place of injured starter Alex Smith. Heinicke — signed in early December to the practice squad — ran for 46 yards and a touchdown and threw for 306 yards and a score.

But that wasn’t enough to overcome Brady’s brilliance.

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While Bill Belichick and the Patriots watch from home with their playoff streak snapped at 11 following a 7-9 season, Brady has the opportunity to play in another Super Bowl — in his new home stadium.

The Buccaneers await the result of Chicago at New Orleans on Sunday to see if they’ll be visiting Drew Brees and the Saints or host the Los Angeles Rams next weekend. They’d need a Bears upset to play at home in the divisional round.

There’s not much slowing Brady, who at 43 years, 159 days passed George Blanda as the oldest player to throw a TD pass in a playoff game. A 36-yard scoring connection with Antonio Brown was Brady’s longest in the playoffs since 2011.

Heinicke made things interesting in the third, most notably scrambling for an 8-yard TD by diving at the pylon in the corner of the end zone. The play even got the attention of reigning Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes, who tweeted, “Bro what!?!?!”

The series after Heinicke banged up his left shoulder, Brady engineered a 69-yard scoring drive capped by a 3-yard Leonard Fournette TD run. That made it 28-16, which was enough to withstand Heinicke’s attempt to be the unlikely hero.

Bills 27, Colts 24

A quarter-century ago, the Buffalo Bills won a playoff game. Now, they have another victory.

They even figured out how to stop a Hail Mary.

Buffalo (14-3) snapped an 0-6 postseason skid with a 27-24 home victory Saturday against 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 6,700 fans in attendance for the first time this season.

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.”

Rams 30, Seahawks 20

A lot of Cam Akers churning yards on the ground and mostly a great Rams defense has Los Angeles moving on in the NFC playoffs at the expense of division-foe Seattle.

Akers rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown, Darious Williams returned Russell Wilson’s interception 42 yards for a score, and the Rams beat the host Seahawks 30-20 in the NFC wild-card playoff 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.”

The best defense in the league during the regular season carried its dominance into the playoffs — even while missing unanimous All-Pro tackle Aaron Donald for much of the second half. No team was better at limiting yards or points than the Rams (11-6) and they continued to torment Wilson and the Seahawks (12-5).

Seattle’s quarterback was under siege from the defensive front and a secondary that minus one play never let DK Metcalf or Tyler Lockett break loose. Donald, before leaving with a rib injury, and Jalen Ramsey were superb. But so were other role players such as Troy Reeder, Jordan Fuller and Leonard Floyd.

Floyd, a former Georgia Bulldogs star, had two of the Rams’ five sacks. Two of the others belonged to Donald. The Rams allowed just 278 total yards and 11 first downs.