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FAB 1. White Comes Up Big In Bucs’ Playoff Win

When Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht selected LSU inside linebacker Devin White with the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft it raised some eyebrows around the league.

Not so much in the Tampa Bay area because Bucs fans that read knew that the Bucs loved the play-making White from the fact that he was featured in nearly every mock draft we did starting with our first one in January of 2019. Yet there were some who criticized the selection, specifically in the national media, because the rule of thumb is that off-the-ball linebackers weren’t worth drafting that high.

But the 6-foot, 240-pound White has 4.42 speed and was no ordinary off-the-ball linebacker. He was the play-maker the Bucs needed to pair with Lavonte David on defense.

After a promising rookie season that saw him make plenty of plays and finish with 91 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, four fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, 2.5 sacks, two defensive touchdowns and one interception, White had an even better year in 2020 – and 2021 looks to be his best yet.

Sunday’s 30-20 playoff win at New Orleans was one of the greatest Buccaneers’ victories of all time (I list the Top 10 in Fab 2) because White had one of his greatest games in his young, two-year career. Returning from a two-game hiatus due to COVID-19, White was a difference-maker against the Saints, finishing with 11 tackles, a tackle for loss, a fumble recovery and an interception, which was his first of the season.

“It was great,” said Bucs head coach Bruce Arians. “Just to see Devin make those plays – that’s what he’s capable of making. Everybody was criticizing how he can’t cover anybody – I think he just proved that he can.”

When asked if White’s performance at New Orleans in the Bucs’ divisional playoff win was the best of his young career, Arians said it was up there.

White’s Top 5 Career Games In Tampa Bay

2020: 31-27 win at Atlanta – 12 tackles, 4 TFLs, 3 sacks 2 PBUs
2020: 30-20 win at New Orleans – 11 tackles, TFL INT, FR
2020: 45-20 win at Las Vegas – 11 tackles, TFL 3 sacks, FF
2019: 28-11 win at Jacksonville – 7 tackles, TFL, INT, FR, TD
2019: 40-34 OT loss at Seattle – 12 tackles, 2 FFs, 0.5 sack

“I would say it’s one of them,” Arians said. “He’s had some really, really good ones. Obviously, the splash plays – the interception, the fumble recovery. The rest of it is just typical Devin – flying around making tackles. It was exactly what we expect of him. But the splash plays help make it one of his better games.”

After the big win in his home state, the Louisiana native and LSU product deflected any individual praise.

Bucs LB Devin White

Bucs LB Devin White – Photo by: USA Today

“We did it all together,” White said. “It ain’t no individual credit for me. I’m just thankful – the only was Round 3 and we came down here to knock them out.”

And knock them out they did – thanks to White’s two takeaways in the second half that led to two Tampa Bay touchdowns. The first one came after safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. punched the ball out of Saints tight end Jared Cook’s hands.

“I was in a certain defense I had the running back and I pushed the running back towards the safety single high,” White said. “I saw Winfield kind of got beat inside, but I saw him punch at the ball. I was going in for the big hit because the tight end caught the ball. Winfield got it out, and it popped right into my hands. It was time to get busy. I turned into a running back.”

White, who played running back and linebacker in high school, returned the fumble 18 yards, throwing a stiff arm as he rambled down to the New Orleans’ 40-yard line.

“On my interception I was in a certain defense and I knew he was going to try to get the ball to Alvin Kamara,” White said. “My coach already told me we would get a heavy dose of Alvin Kamara because he was really the only playmaker right now. I just knew wherever he was I was that’s where I was going to be and I was going to make a play. I just want to shout out to God for allowing me to make that play and allowing me to overcome the COVID stuff. I’m just happy to be back with my squad.”

White, who was named as a team captain in 2020, made plenty of splash plays for the Bucs during the regular season, leading the team with 140 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, nine sacks, four passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Despite beating Atlanta in Week 17 and winning at Washington in the wild card playoffs, the Bucs defense missed White’s play-making ability and the energy he brings to the defense during his COVID-related absence.

“It’s huge, especially for him coming off a two-week hiatus, dealing with what we had to deal with. And then coming back in a big, key game for us playing against a division opponent in a divisional round of the playoffs, it was something that we expected out of him – him coming out with a lot of energy ready to fly around. He made a bunch of plays for us to win that football game. That’s just Devin being Devin – just out there being a play-maker, having fun with it and doing what he loves.”

Bucs LB Devin White and CB Carlton Davis III

Bucs LB Devin White and CB Carlton Davis III – Photo by: USA Today

In Tampa Bay’s win at New Orleans, Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles deployed a healthy dose of press-man coverage and blitzing that helped force four Saints turnovers on Sunday night. That was the same strategy he turned to in the second quarter of the Bucs’ 38-10 come-from-behind win against Green Bay in Week 6, as Aaron Rodgers threw two interceptions and was sacked five times, including once by the blitzing White.

“It’s all a team effort,” White said. “I think the number one thing is Todd Bowles said, ‘We’re going to be feisty, we’re going to challenge those guys’ and he’s going to take us over them. I said the same thing. I said, ‘Man, I’m going to take my guys over their guys.’ I know one thing – we might be young, but we can get after it when we’ve got our minds set to it. Everybody’s saying it – ‘Where’s the Tampa Bay defense from the Green Bay game?’ We were really feisty with them, we were really challenging them at the line of scrimmage and we were really getting after the quarterback. I think we had that same mentality.”

White and the Bucs will need to keep that same mentality as they travel to Green Bay for a rematch with Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday in the NFC championship game.

“Man it was so hard going through COVID because I enjoy going to work,” White said. “This is what I do. Man, this is what I always wanted to be growing up – an NFL football player. Now that I got it, I’m not taking it for granted.

“At the end of the day, it’s a hard league. I went from not being in the playoffs last year to going to the NFC championship. What a difference a year makes.”

And what a difference a difference-maker like White makes for the Bucs defense.

FAB 2. Bucs’ Playoff Win Versus Saints Is One For The Ages

Tampa Bay posted an incredible playoff victory last Sunday in New Orleans, as the Bucs beat the Saints, 30-20, to advance to the 2020 NFC championship game at Green Bay. Where does that win rank in Bucs history? Let’s take a look at the 10 biggest wins – which naturally includes all of the team’s postseason victories – in Tampa Bay since the team’s inception in 1976.

1. Bucs Beat Raiders, 48-21, In Super Bowl XXXVII – 2002

Hall of Fame Bucs DT Warren Sapp - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Hall of Fame Bucs DT Warren Sapp – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

It’s Tampa Bay’s pinnacle achievement – the reason why every NFL team plays the game – to win a Super Bowl. The Bucs did just that during the 2002 season as the team caught lightning in a bottle in Jon Gruden’s first year as head coach. After firing popular head coach Tony Dungy after another first-round exit in the playoffs with a loss at Philadelphia, the Glazers traded for Gruden in early February, and his offense paired with Monte Kiffin’s dominant defense led the franchise to the Promised Land. The Bucs finished with a 12-4 record, the best in team history, and the defense, led by NFL Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Brooks and Pro Bowler Warren Sapp, wound up scoring nine defensive touchdowns that season, including three in Super Bowl XXXVII against Gruden’s former team.

2. Bucs Beat Eagles, 27-10, In NFC Championship Game – 2002

Tampa Bay exorcised its demons, finally beating the Eagles in Philadelphia as Gruden’s offense finally came to life with a big 73-yard catch-and-run from Joe Jurevicius to set up a touchdown run by Mike Alstott, the first touchdown scored by the Bucs offense in the last three trips to Veterans Stadium. The Bucs defense was magnificent with Ronde Barber’s 92-yard pick-six being the best play in franchise history, sending Tampa Bay to its first ever Super Bowl. That play shut down The Vet in style.

3. Bucs Beat Eagles, 24-17, In NFC Divisional Playoffs – 1979

In just four short years, Tampa Bay went from expansion team to the NFC championship game, thanks to John McKay’s potent ground game led by Ricky Bell, who rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns, and the league’s top defense, featuring NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Lee Roy Selmon, who had two scks. What was even sweeter was the fact that the Bucs’ first ever playoff game was at home before a raucous sold out crowd at Tampa Stadium. The victory propelled the Bucs to the NFC championship game the next week at home where Tampa Bay would lose to the Los Angeles Rams, 9-0, in disappointing fashion.

4. Bucs Beat Saints, 30-20, In Divisional Playoffs – 2020

Similar to the team’s 2002 playoff win at Philadelphia, Tampa Bay exorcised some recent demons win a massive victory at New Orleans against a Saints team that had beaten the Bucs five straight times. Tampa Bay’s defense came to life with four turnovers, including three interceptions against Drew Brees that led to 21 points. Quarterback Tom Brady accounted for three touchdowns in a win that punched the Bucs’ ticket for this Sunday’s NFC championship game at Green Bay in a Week 6 rematch against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

5. Bucs Beat Saints, 33-14, For First Ever Win – 1977

Former Bucs HC John McKay – Photo courtesy of NFL Films

After losing its first 26 games in franchise history, Tampa Bay finally won an NFL game, beating the Saints in New Orleans. McKay’s Bucs went 0-14 in their inaugural season and then started off the 1977 season with a 0-12 record before a monumental victory against Archie Manning that would lead to the Saints firing head coach Hank Stram following the season. The Bucs defense recorded six interceptions, including three pick-sixes, to race out to a 26-0 lead. Thousands of Bucs fans greeted the team at the airport and team headquarters after Tampa Bay’s first-ever win.

6. Bucs Beat Redskins, 14-13, In Divisional Playoffs – 1999

The 11-5 Bucs won the NFC Central division title for just the third time and hosted the Redskins in what became an epic defensive battle, as both teams’ offense failed to produce even 200 total yards. Washington led 13-0 in the third quarter before John Lynch picked off Brad Johnson to spark Tampa Bay in the second half. Alstott raced about 25 yards laterally to dodge Redskins defenders on a 2-yard touchdown run, and rookie quarterback Shaun King threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to backup tight end John Davis to finish off the Bucs’ comeback. Tampa Bay would lose at St. Louis in the NFC championship game the following week.

7. Bucs Beat Lions, 20-10, In Wild Card Playoffs – 1997

In just the second year of the Dungy era, the Bucs went 10-6 and ended a 14-year playoff drought by qualifying as a wild card team. Tampa Bay hosted NFC Central division foe Detroit and corralled Barry Sanders, holding the future Hall of Famer to just 65 yards on 18 carries. The Bucs’ stingy defense knocked starting quarterback Scott Mitchell out of the game after Anthony Parker picked him off, and backup quarterback Frank Reich did little to move the offense. Warrick Dunn had 72 yards rushing and Alstott had 68 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown to propel the Bucs to just their second postseason victory in franchise history. Tampa Bay would lose the following week at Green Bay in the divisional playoffs.

8. Bucs Beat 49ers, 31-6, In Divisional Playoffs – 2002

Gruden’s miracle playoff run as Tampa Bay’s head coach included facing three teams he previously coached for, starting with San Francisco against good friend Steve Mariucci. Gruden’s offense came to life with four first half touchdowns, including two scoring runs from Alstott and two TD passes from Johnson. Tampa Bay’s defense sacked Jeff Garcia four times and forced five turnovers, including three interceptions from Garcia, who would later play QB for Gruden and the Bucs from 2007-08. After vanquishing the 49ers quite easily, the Bucs would get a shot at redemption against the Eagles in Philadelphia in the 2002 NFC championship game.

9. Bucs Beat Washington, 31-23, In Wild Card Playoffs – 2020

Bucs QB Tom Brady

Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today

Brady’s first postseason game with the Bucs is one for the ages as he threw for 381 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a game the team never trailed in. Running back Leonard Fournette rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown, while receiver Mike Evans caught six passes for 119 yards as Tampa Bay ended a 12-year playoff drought. Washington backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke played well, accounting for 352 yards and two touchdowns to give the Bucs defense a scare, but the team just didn’t have the firepower to keep up with Tampa Bay’s offense, which generated 507 yards of total offense. Tampa Bay would advance to the divisional round to play at New Orleans next.

10. Bucs Beat 49ers, 13-6, In Season Opener – 1997

The only other regular season win that had any major significance to compare to a postseason victory was the 1997 season opener – and for a lot of reasons. First, it would be the final season in the Big Sombrero, as construction had begun on the new Raymond James Stadium, which would open in 1998. Second, it was the debut of the Bucs’ new pirate flag logo and red and pewter uniforms. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Tampa Bay was a big underdog against Steve Young and Jerry Rice and the 49ers, but Hardy Nickerson and Sapp proceeded to knock both out of the game with injuries in the first half. That win put the Bucs on the cover of Sports Illustrated and propelled a five-ga