By FRED GOODALL
AP Sports Writer
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.
The Eagles won four of their last five games to earn the No. 7 playoff seeding in the NFC, however the turning point in their season came when running the ball became a focal point of the offense during the second half of a 28-22 home loss to the Bucs.
The Eagles ran for at least 130 yards in their next nine games, including seven in a row with more than 175. Hurt led the team with 784 yards and 10 yards rushing, becoming the eighth quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 3,000 yards and run for over 750.
Hurts finished his playoff debut 23 of 43 passing for 258 yards. He ran for a team-high 39 yards on eight attempts, with the Eagles finishing with 95 yards rushing overall — well below their season average of 159.7 per game.
Philadelphia played without defensive end Josh Sweat, who inactive after being admitted to the hospital and undergoing “an emergency procedure” for what the team described as a “life-threatening situation” earlier in the week.
The Eagles released a statement before the game saying Sweat, who tied for the team lead with 7½ sacks this season, was admitted to a hospital last Tuesday night.
“In the following days, Josh and our medical team did everything possible to help him return to play,” the statement said. “He improved every day, but it was determined by doctors today that he was not quite ready. The fact that Josh came so close to playing is a credit to his toughness and our medical staff.”
Eagles: LB T.J. Edwards (elbow) left in the second half and did not return.
Buccaneers: While David and Bernard were activated from injured reserve, RB Leonard Fournette (hamstring) was not. With RB Ronald Jones (ankle) inactive, that created a bigger role for Vaughn. … All-Pro RT Tristan Wirfs limped off with an ankle injury a little over a minute into the game. He returned briefly in the second quarter, before taking the rest of the day off.
Eagles: Enter offseason with lingering questions about whether Hurts is the answer at quarterback moving forward.
Buccaneers: Host NFC divisional game next weekend.
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