In order to go on a postseason run, clutch plays need to be made, often from unlikely sources. You know that the Bucs are going to get those moments from Tom Brady, but for them to achieve the ultimate success, other players have to step up in the big moments as well.
That’s exactly what Tampa Bay has gotten from their role players in order to reach the Super Bowl. High-profile players will get the attention, and deservedly so, but there are plenty of other moments that have helped the Bucs to the Super Bowl.
Whether it’s guard Aaron Stinnie filling in for Alex Cappa along the line, or Scotty Miller taking the role of an injured Antonio Brown, the depth of the Bucs has been apparent.
“This is a heck of a roster,” Bruce Arians said. “There is no doubt about it. RoJo (Ronald Jones II) goes down, we have Leonard [Fournette], we have ‘Shady’ (LeSean McCoy) and Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who had a good role there for a while. I think at all of the places, I love our depth. Aaron Stinnie has stepped up. We had a lot of trust in him. It goes on, and on and on. ‘Nacho’ (Rakeem Nunez-Roches) has done a great job in Vita [Vea]’s place and getting Steve McLendon was huge for us down the stretch, especially in stopping the run. Jason Licht has done a great, great job of putting depth throughout this whole roster. Even on our practice squad, we’ve got some practice squad guys that could really start for us.”
Another two players that have put their stamp on this postseason are safety Mike Edwards and rookie wide receiver Tyler Johnson.
Edwards, who has been labeled a ballhawk by Arians, had a big interception over the Saints in the divisional round, and then played an important role in replacing an injured Antoine Winfield in the NFC championship, which loomed even larger after Jordan Whitehead left the game with a shoulder injury.
“It’s a next-man-up mentality,” Edwards said. “When somebody goes down you have to be just as good as the other person that went down. I took that as a challenge and I felt like I was ready for it. I’m not a slouch, so I definitely want to make plays when I get in, anytime I get in there I want to make as many plays as I can and create some plays for the defense.”
While Johnson had a relatively quiet rookie season due to his place on a stacked wide receiver depth chart, he found a way to make a huge play in each of the last two rounds, making a clutch third-down catch in the fourth quarter to help set up a go ahead field goal at New Orleans, and drawing a pass interference penalty to clinch the NFC title.
“Early on in the year we were talking about how our receiver room is stacked,” Johnson said. “Everybody is just making plays right and left. Definitely whenever our number is called, when our time is up we just want to go out there and make a play because that’s what we love to do. It’s definitely been fun seeing everybody go out there and getting attention, getting the shine, getting the grind on and just be able to go out there and make plays.”
If the Bucs are going to win Super Bowl LV, they might just need one more clutch moment. Injuries haven’t devastated this squad overall during the year, but there have been a bunch of 1-2 game absences by starters that have forced the Bucs to call upon key depth pieces to step into the lineup. One of those players has been veteran CB Ross Cockrell, who was signed to the team about a month into the 2020 NFL season. Cockrell filled a pivotal role of the team’s No. 4 cornerback, and he’s played admirably when called upon this year, starting two games and playing significant chunks of others.
“Ross Cockrell has been one of the best pickups we’ve had the entire season,” Arians told the media this week.
The Bucs had significant depth question marks on their roster heading into the season, especially at running back, offensive line, defensive tackle and cornerback. Licht’s ability to add strong, capable starting veterans across all four position groups was not only critical at the time, but has proven to be one of the biggest reasons the Bucs are contending for their second Lombardi trophy in the Super Bowl on Sunday.