LANDOVER — Kam Curl said he could see the hurt in Chase Young’s eyes. By then, the team had already discovered the defensive end’s season was likely over due to a torn ACL. But standing in the locker room at halftime with his team holding a double-digit lead,
Young calmly delivered a message to the defense: Keep fighting. Young implored his teammates to keep the pressure on. He told them to act as if the game was still tied and forget they had the lead, safety Bobby McCain said. After all, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were too good to take for granted.
“A guy like that, you want to pull through for him,” Curl said of Young. “You don’t want to disappoint him.”
They didn’t. Despite Young exiting in the second quarter with a knee injury, Washington pulled off a remarkable 29-19 upset win over the Buccaneers. This was a victory few saw coming as not only did the defending Super Bowl champions eliminate Washington from the postseason last year, but the Buccaneers had a much better record than Washington over the first half of this season.
But it happened. Washington (3-6) was indeed able to beat a Tom Brady-led team for the first time since 2003. And on Sunday, the defense — a unit that had struggled for most of the year — made Brady look, well, normal — something few other defenses have been able to do this season.
Brady threw only for 220 yards and was picked off twice, tying a season-high in interceptions for the quarterback.
For Washington, the Burgundy and Gold were finally able to get a complete performance on both sides of the ball. As good as the defense was, the offense was just as impressive — sealing the contest with a physical 19-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown from running back Antonio Gibson within the final minute.
That drive lasted approximately 10 minutes and 26 seconds, making it the longest series in the NFL this season. Coach Ron Rivera’s bold decision to go for it on fourth and a yard away from the goal line on that drive was also rewarded with Gibson’s touchdown.
“We were more desperate,” McCain said. “We were more desperate than Tampa Bay was. We knew it. They knew it. As you could tell, they came out kind of flat. We were more desperate than they were and we wanted the win worse than they did.”
The desperation, as McCain said, fueled much of Sunday’s victory for Washington. To this point, Washington’s season had not unfolded as most expected. The Burgundy and Gold hardly resembled last season’s scrappy playoff team that pushed Tampa Bay in the postseason. Instead, they entered this weekend with a disappointing 2-6 record.
But it wasn’t hard to see the difference in Sunday’s performance. Brady’s first interception, for example, came when Curl came flying in to deliver the hard hit on the receiver — knocking the ball free in the air for cornerback William Jackson III to grab it. For Brady’s second interception, McCain said he tracked Brady’s eyes — jumping in front of the route to create the turnover in the middle of the field.
Washington’s offense was able to capitalize on Tampa Bay’s mistakes, too. Washington’sTaylor Heinicke (256 yards) looked more like the quarterback that unexpectedly dazzled during last season’s playoff game. Heinicke helped convert drives into touchdowns, which was a welcome change for the quarterback given the offense’s problems earlier in the season.
Here’s how different Washington was Sunday: Heinicke’s 20-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DeAndre Carter gave the team its largest lead of the season (13-0).
The precise attention to detail and effort had been missing, at times, over the team’s first eight games. Still, Washington’s intensity remained even when Young went down with 7:43 left in the second quarter.
On the play that left Young injured, the defensive end appeared to suffer a non-contact knee injury. The 22-year-old rolled on the ground in pain and eventually was helped off by two trainers to the locker room.
“There’s some concern,” Rivera said of Young. “Potentially an ACL … Once we get the evaluation, we’ll know for sure.
For Washington to hold onto its 16-6 halftime lead, the team had to withstand the Buccaneers’ push in the second half. Each time the Buccaneers cut into the lead, Washington responded.
First, there was Gibson’s 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter, with his offensive line shoving the running back across the goal line.
Then, after Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans torched cornerback Kendall Fuller for a 40-yard touchdown, Washington went on its season-long drive.
In general, players remarked how physical the Buccaneers were and the effort it took to match it. “They were hittin,’ hittin,’” said Terry McLaurin, who withstood a crunching hit on third and 5 in the fourth quarter to convert a crucial first down. Gibson even called it the toughest game of his career from a physical standpoint.
But Washington rarely backed down.
“We made them earn everything that they got,” defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said. “This is what happens when you do things the right way.”
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the accurate time of Washington‘s final drive and a stat accompanying it.