Low-scoring games with the defensive line swarming opposing quarterbacks was how the Washington Football Team was built. And, it's the only way Washington can beat Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Saturday's playoff game.
Washington (7-9) cobbled together enough offense to win the NFC East, but it was really the defense's crown. After an early brutal four-game losing streak when allowing at least 30 points per game, Washington's defense stabilized over the next month and thrived over the final weeks.
Washington's roster was constructed for games like its season-ending 20-14 victory over Philadelphia. And, it's the only way to beat the Bucs. If Washington can hit Brady regularly, alter and force his passes early, it has a puncher's chance of advancing. But, give Brady time and the offseason begins in the early hours of Sunday.
Oh, there's much discussion of Washington quarterback Alex Smith's strained calf and whether newcomer Taylor Heinicke needs to play. If Smith can thrive early as he did against Philadelphia for a 10-0 lead, Washington can run more often to take pressure off the passer. But if Washington throws 40 times, Tampa Bay will run down the immobile Smith too often.
Maybe Washington can muster enough offense despite injuries to Smith along with playmaking running back Antonio Gibson (turf toe) and receiver Terry McLaurin (ankle) to outlast Tampa Bay. But, it can't get into a shootout. Tampa Bay has too many options to score while Washington is nearly down to dink-and-dunk passes and no downfield options.
Not that Tampa Bay is invincible. Its 11-5 mark is largely built on beating bad teams. Aside a signature victory over Green Bay on Oct. 18, Tampa Bay has beaten sand castles overwhelmed by waves.
Still, Brady threw 40 touchdowns and 4,633 yards. The most successful passer of all time has resurrected the Bucs in his first season away from New England. He remains the centerpiece of Washington's game plan. Stop Brady and Washington can win. If the defensive line is neutralized, Brady will pick the secondary apart.
"The guy has sustained success at an amazing level throughout his career," defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "But for us, we're not playing 20 years of Tom. We're playing one night and one game and looking forward to the competition."
It's going to be close and Washington could use some defensive turnovers to help score points. But anyone thinking a 7-9 team can't win a playoff game doesn't know history. Washington may not be headed to the Super Bowl, but it can beat Tampa Bay.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks.