- The Washington Times - Monday, January 4, 2021

By Monday morning, Chase Young’s message had reached Tampa Bay.

Less than 24 hours earlier, in the moments after Washington’s 20-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles to clinch the NFC East, the rookie pass rusher shouted “Tom Brady, I’m coming! I want Tom! I want Tom!” as he skipped to the locker room. With Washington set to host the Buccaneers thanks to the victory, Young called out arguably the greatest quarterback of all time — a player who began his professional career the year Young was born.

“Careful what you wish for,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said.

Brady, a six-time Super Bowl champion in his first season with the Buccaneers, might not need bulletin board material for when he and Tampa Bay travel to face Washington for next Saturday’s primetime game. After all, the 11-5 Buccaneers are 7½ point favorites to beat 7-9 Washington.

And Sunday’s ugly win in Philadelphia did little to suggest a Washington upset is likely. Oddsmakers responded to the Washington victory by installing the NFC East champs as the unlikeliest of the 14 teams in the NFL playoffs to win the Super Bowl: 85 to 1 longshots.

It doesn’t help Washington’s prospects that Brady has a history of taking perceived slights personally. Just look at the way he roasted Tony Dungy on social media a few weeks ago for calling him the sixth-hardest player to coach against. On the field, Brady’s payback can be even more painful.

Washington coach Ron Rivera on Monday wasn’t worried about whether his star rookie had poked the wrong bear.

“You’ve got to chalk it up to youthful exuberance, but that’s who Chase is,” Rivera said. “I do cringe, but at the same time, I smile at it because he loves playing the game. I think that’s what it’s all about.”

Rivera acknowledged the Buccaneers will “have some fun” with Young’s quotes. But the coach is more than willing to embrace Washington’s underdog status.

Since the team shifted plans to push for the division in October, Rivera has repeatedly said that his squad just needs to get into the postseason — and then anything can happen. Rivera saw it firsthand in 2014 when his 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers knocked off the 11-5 Arizona Cardinals, coincidentally coached by Arians.

In fact, the last four teams to make the playoffs without a winning record — the 2014 Panthers, the 2011 Broncos (8-8), 2009 Seahawks (7-9) and 2008 Chargers (8-8) — have all recorded upsets in the wild-card round.

Rivera said that as an underdog, opponents tend to overlook the matchup. “They start to look ahead,” he said. He recalled how with the Panthers, a lot of people felt as if Carolina should have made the playoffs — but ignored the four-game winning streak that got them there late in the year. He compared the situation to a hot goalie in hockey finding rhythm at the right time.

Rivera said he doesn’t think Arians will underestimate Washington this time around. But there are those who see the team as undeserving of making the postseason with a sub .500 record — especially given the way Washington’s win over the Eagles played out.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson drew criticism for benching a healthy Jalen Hurts in the fourth quarter of a three-point game for backup Nate Sudfeld. Pederson said he was “trying to win” and added the move was to evaluate Sudfeld, but that didn’t stop him from being accused of tanking the game in order for Philadelphia (4-11-1) to get a better draft pick.

The New York Giants, who would have made the postseason with a Washington loss, were particularly perplexed. “This (is) just disrespectful to the game,” Giants wideout Darius Slayton tweeted.

Rivera scoffed at the notion that the Eagles’ quarterback switch somehow delegitimized the team’s first division title since 2015.

“I’m not going to apologize for winning,” Rivera said, growing more animated throughout his answer “Apparently, that’s what everybody wants me to do is apologize for winning. I’m not going to. You play the game as it’s set up. …Nobody seemed to care two weeks ago when we didn’t have some of our best players. Nobody cared last week when we didn’t have them.

“So, why should we be concerned if a coach decides to do something he believes is best for his team?”

Rivera’s point is logical. Practically any result can be picked apart. Washington, for instance, is a made two-point attempt and a missed 59-yarder from perhaps being 9-7 on the season. The team could have also finished worse than 7-9, if, say, Joe Burrow doesn’t tear his ACL. Teams deal with the situation at hand, and it’s up to them to take advantage.

For Washington, that now means preparing for the Buccaneers. Even at 43, Brady threw for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions this season. He has an elite supporting cast in Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski and Ronald Jones.

After Sunday’s win, Young took a more humble approach when asked about Brady by reporters. He said Brady was “one of the best to ever do it,” adding Washington would be ready for the challenge.

Young might have been hiding his excitement, but that didn’t stop others. Rookie safety Kamren Curl said it will “be crazy” to face Brady — and even alluded to intercepting the quarterback. Curl, who had three interceptions in the regular season, would become just the 21st player to pick off Brady in the playoffs.

“I used to watch him when I was younger,” Curl said. “So it’ll be pretty cool to get one off him.”


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