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Tampa Bay opens defense of Super Bowl title with rout

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tom Brady threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, helping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers launch their bid for a return to the Super Bowl with a dominating 31-15 NFC wild-card playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

The defending champions set the tempo from the start, with Brady leading a pair of long TD drives in the opening quarter and building the lead to 17-0 by halftime.

The seven-time Super Bowl winner finished off the Eagles with TD passes of 2 yards to Rob Gronkowski and 36 yards to Mike Evans, improving his dazzling playoff record to 35-11 in a record 46 postseason starts.

The Bucs defense did its part, too, intercepting Jalen Hurts twice in the Philadelphia quarterback’s playoff debut.

“We did some good things,” Brady said. “I think we’re just going to have to keep doing what we did today. Everyone’s got to touch it, make some explosive plays. Did a good job possessing it, the defense played great, so it was a great team win. Special teams played awesome — one of the best days we had on special teams all year.”

Brady completed 29 of 37 passes without an interception while extending his postseason record for TD passes to 85.

But the Bucs (14-4) had matters well in hand before the reigning Super Bowl MVP found Gronkowski wide open in the middle of the end zone to make it 24-0 midway through the third quarter. The 6-foot-5 Evans punctuated his TD catch for a 31-0 lead with a front flip over the goal line.

The Eagles (9-9) scored on Boston Scott’s 34-yard run and Hurts’ 16-yard TD pass to Kenneth Gainwell in the fourth quarter. A 2-point conversion trimmed Philadelphia’s deficit to 16 with 4:45 remaining, but that was as close as it would get.

Giovani Bernard scored on a 2-yard run and Ke’Shawn Vaughn, a second-year pro filling in for injured running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, covered the final yard of a 70-yard drive that put the Bucs up 14-0.

Brady led the NFL in passing yards, touchdowns, attempts and completions this season, but Tampa Bay gained the upper hand in this one by running the ball and keeping it away from Hurts and the league’s leading rushing attack.

The Bucs ran 25 plays to Philadelphia’s eight in the first quarter, outgaining the Eagles 137 yards to 17 and compiling an 11-1 edge in first downs.

It didn’t get much better after that, with a Tampa Bay defense fortified by the return of injured linebackers Lavonte David, Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul turning away Hurts’ most promising drive of the opening half with Mike Edwards’ end zone interception.

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