Ageless Tom Brady proved he could win big game without Bill Belichick

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It is clear that we are all wasting our time waiting for the day when we feel compelled to write an ode to Tom Brady highlighting that, even though he isn’t Forever Young any more than any of the greats in any sport ever were, there is no shame in that.

From what we have learned about Brady, it is growing more and more unlikely even now that we will see him as a sad shell of his former self at the end, because he is much too prideful to go out that way.

From the looks of things on Sunday night, somehow 19 years after his first playoff win in the Tuck Rule game against the Raiders in the snow in Foxborough, someone, maybe wife Gisele, will be forced to rip his No. 12 jersey off his back, because he’s still having too much fun playing the game he fell in love with as a boy when Joe Montana was his idol.

Tom Brady is wired differently than most everyone else, harboring so much belief in himself that at age forty-bleeping-three he could relish the challenge of leaving the Patriots for the Bucs, or a dynasty for a doormat, and leaving Bill Belichick for Bruce Arians.

And look at him now, six Super Bowl rings in the rearview mirror, seventh heaven one step closer after Bucs 31, WFT 23.

But a former Patriots practice squad quarterback, who was in awe getting the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch film with Brady, sure made him sweat, sure threw a scare into him and the Bucs.

This wasn’t any showdown with Peyton Manning. Or Eli Manning. Or even Nick Foles.

This was Taylor Heinicke, the Pride of Old Dominion, playing for his fifth NFL team, former XFL quarterback for the St. Louis BattleHawks, who had thrown 77 career passes, who learned on Friday he would be starting in place of Alex Smith (calf).

Heinicke would force Brady, 31-11 in the playoffs, to be the GOAT yet again when Winning Time stalked Brady and tapped him on the shoulder in the fourth quarter, after Washington had closed to within 28-23.

And when it ended, the perfectionist in Brady surfaced yet again, because he knows how champions are crowned at this time of the year.

“Moved the ball OK, I think we had decent yardage, but at the end of the day it comes down to points, and we gotta do a better job scoring more points,” Brady said.

Brady lofted a beauty, a 35-yard dime deep left with pressure in his face for Mike Evans. Then he was sacked. It was third-and-18 when Brady rifled a 16-yard pass over the middle to Chris Godwin to position the 37-yard Ryan Succop field goal with 2:49 left.

Last chance for Taylor Heinicke (26-of-44, 306 yards, one touchdown and one interception).

Seventy-five yards to cover and no timeouts.

No fairy tale ending for Taylor Heinicke (six carries, 46 yards and one rushing TD) .

Brady (22-of-40, 381 yards, two TDs) should have had four TD passes, but Godwin dropped one and Cameron Brate dropped another. Give him time to stand in the pocket, he still can beat you with long-range missiles.

“Come on, that’s Tom Brady!” Leonard Fournette said.

Brady’s 36-yard TD pass to a wide-open Antonio Brown made it Bucs 9, WFT 0 late in the first quarter.

His 27-yard TD pass to Godwin came immediately after Heinicke had shaken off a deflected interception and responded with poise and precision on a 10-play, 75-yard TD drive to cut the WFT deficit to 9-7 early in the second quarter.

Heinicke kept coming for Brady the way Chase Young was expecting to come after Brady.

“We had nothing to lose,” Heinicke said.

He resembled Houdini on a pair of daring scrambles, the second an 8-yard TD run that made it Brady 18, Heinicke 16. “He almost beat us with his legs,” Arians said.

It was a 21-16 game when Brady hit Evans for 20 yards. Then across the field on the right side for Evans for 19 yards. Fournette’s 3-yard TD made it Brady 28, Heinicke 16.

Heinicke had been examined for a left shoulder injury. He wasn’t coming out. He would play the fourth quarter in great pain with an AC joint separation.

“He has the heart of a lion,” Terry McLaurin said.

You need the heart of a lion to have a chance against the GOAT. Heinicke completed his first seven passes on the drive before finding Steven Sims with a perfect 11-yard yard TD pass with 4:51 left.

Finally, Brady forced the kid to drive his team the distance into the end zone for a chance to tie it, and finally the Bucs played some playoff defense, and he never got close.

“Regardless of the outcome what a great game by Heinicke!” Patrick Mahomes tweeted.

He was so fearless, so poised. He resembled the young Tom Brady. Or this Tom Brady.

“You’d love to play great every game, I think it’s good to win and advance,” Brady said. “We don’t play well next week, we’re not going to be happy. Whoever our opponent is, it’s going to be a good one, and we’re going to have to go play great football.”

You wonder whether Belichick watched it. The night Tom Brady won a playoff game without him. Just as he bet he would when he left.

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