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A closer look at Washington's game-sealing fourth-quarter drive

Quarterback Taylor Heinicke celebrates with wide receiver Adam Humphries during the Washington Football Team's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Karlee Sell/Washington Football Team)
Quarterback Taylor Heinicke celebrates with wide receiver Adam Humphries during the Washington Football Team's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Karlee Sell/Washington Football Team)

Tom Brady is known for a lot of things, from his Super Bowl rings to his over-the-top diet, but he has repeatedly proven over the course of his career that time is on his side, and he knows how to eke out wins in the final seconds.

That was not the case during his Week 10 to FedExField, where he and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers were heavy favorites, and the Washington Football Team made sure of that.

Clinging to a four-point lead with just under 11 minutes left to play, Taylor Heinicke and the offense set up shop at their own 20-yard line and marched down the field to the tune of 19 plays that ate up more than 10 minutes off the clock. Not only did it keep Brady off the field, but the one-yard touchdown from Antonio Gibson that capped off the drive also dashed Tampa Bay's comeback hopes.

It was the longest drive in the NFL so far and the fourth-longest in franchise history, and like everyone else at FedExField, all Brady could do was sit and watch.

"That whole drive was a grown man drive," DeAndre Carter said after the game. "To not give Tom Brady back the ball, that's a big drive. That's what we're capable of."

Coming up short at the last minute has not been uncommon for Washington this season, and it looked like it was about to happen again, as Dax Milne had the ball forced from his grasp on a 3rd-and-9. Brady and the Buccaneers subsequently turned that into a 40-yard touchdown three plays later, cutting Washington's lead from 11 points down to four.

It would have been easy for Washington to fold in that moment as the momentum started to turn in Tampa Bay's favor. But as Heinicke and the offense huddled together, they all had the same thought: it's still their game to lose.

"We're still up by four. Let's go end it right now," Heinicke said of the offense's mindset. "Everyone had a part. The offensive line did great. Terry McLaurin had a couple huge catches there on third downs, same thing with Dyami Brown. So everyone took part in this game. It was really nice to see."

Not long after the drive started, Washington came to its first challenge: a 3rd-and-2 from its own 28-yard line. It's an area where Washington has struggled throughout the season, but Heinicke, who has slowly started to look like more of his more comfortable self, scrambled to the left and converted with a three-yard gain.

Time and time again, Heinicke delivered accurate passes with a wide range of difficulty. After his third-down scramble, he dumped off a screen pass to McLaurin, who worked his way through blockers for a 16-yard gain. When Washington faced its third of five third downs in the drive, this time at the Tampa Bay 25-yard line, he hit Adam Humphries for a five-yard gain just before he landed out of bounds.

Heinicke's final stats of the drive: 6-of-6 for 45 yards.

"That's what we know he's capable of," Rivera said. "In spite of the fact that we didn't have all of the weapons we wanted out there because we'd love to get Logan Thomas back, eventually Ricky Seals-Jones went down. He really showed what he's capable of and you feel really good about that."

One of the most critical moments came with three minutes left on the clock. It was 3rd-and-5 at Tampa Bay's 15-yard line. A failed conversion likely meant Joey Slye would come trotting out, and even though Tampa Bay had used all of its timeouts, there was plenty of time left for Brady to potentially tie the game.

So, Washington called on Heinicke to complete a slant route to McLaurin -- its best offensive playmaker. Facing an all-out blitz, Heinicke fired the pass before the rush could bring him down. McLaurin paid for the catch with a massive hit, but the NFL's best in terms on contested catches held on.

"It was a play called to me to try and win the game," McLaurin said. "I am very thankful to be part of this team and be a leader and be trusted in those situations. Taylor gave me a great ball because it was bang bang, but it was far enough away from me that I could pluck the ball with my hand and try to make a play."

The two-minute warning came and went, and Tampa Bay couldn't stop the clock as Washington inched towards the goal line. The team could have just let the clock run, but Rivera had other plans. He wanted to remove any hope of Brady pulling out a comeback.

So, on 4th-and-1 at Tampa Bay's 1-yard line, Washington called a run for Gibson. He ran untouched into the end zone and leapt into the stands to celebrate.

"They're stout, we know that upfront, but we stuck with it," Rivera said of the run. "We made them honor that and we were able to continue to keep our balance in terms of how we wanted to attack them running and throwing the football."

As Carter mentioned, the drive was an example of everything Washington can accomplish. It showed that when the team puts together a complete effort, it can beat a team as good as the Buccaneers. But now that it's put that performance on display, it's time to grow off that for the rest of the season.

"If we can continue to build off of this," Rivera said, "I think we put ourselves in a pretty good position."

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