Kevin Minter last started an NFL Playoff game in 2015 as a 25-year old off-ball linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals. Now, as a 30-year old special teams captain for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he’ll get his third career playoff start and second start of the year replacing young stud Devin White. It’s now on the shoulders of Minter and the rest of the active Bucs roster to defeat the Washington Football Team on Saturday night, and give White his first chance to play in the NFL postseason.
The stakes are bigger in the playoffs, but life is a bit simpler too. Win, and you play again. Lose, and it’s time to book your vacation plans. Although, in the time of COVID-19, there aren’t as many vacation options these days, so an NFL team is better of just winning, right?
Of course, they all want to make it to the final game of the season. The Super Bowl. Which just so happens to be in Tampa, Florida this year.
For the 2020 Bucs, it’s been a solid blend of youth and veteran experience which got them to this point. The 43-year old GOAT, Tom Brady. Joined by a strong mix of younger and older talent like Ronald Jones II and Rob Gronkowski. But he’s also had a nice blend of middle-ground players, like Mike Evans.
The defense is the same. Elder statesmen like Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul have been solid, but younger contributors like Antoine Winfield Jr. and Devin White have handled the spotlight well in many spots as well.
In Week 17, one of the younger parts of this squad had to sit at home while veteran Kevin Minter replaced White against the Atlanta Falcons due to the second-year linebacker’s placement on the Reserve / COVID-19 List.
It went well. Minter recorded six solo tackles while combining for nine in all, leading the Bucs and the game, in the category.
He didn’t have any sacks. Something White has become well known for contributing. Even when he gets close, the thought of White screaming through the pocket into the faces of opposing quarterbacks has been enough to make most nervous, when they’d like to consider themselves more on the unflappable side of things.
Not only did Minter not record a sack. He didn’t record a quarterback hit either. He did notch a pass defense, and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw for just 265-yards despite throwing it forty-four times with a 65% completion percentage.
When an inside linebacker is missing from a talented defense, you look first at the tight ends. Hayden Hurst was targeted six times, catching four of them, but collected just 28-yards despite having one singular catch of fourteen.
Hurst did catch a touchdown, but the trade-off in improved pass defense more than made up for the loss in quarterback pressure, helping Tampa Bay secure a 44-27 win.
The victory sealed the fifth-seed for the Bucs, and a Sunday Night Football win for Washington secured a date in the playoffs between Bruce Arians’ squad, and Ron Rivera’s.
But everyone wondered nearing the final contest of Week 17: When would the Buccaneers play?
If Tampa Bay were playing on Sunday, Devin White would be playing. The NFL didn’t feel motivated enough by this fact, however, so the Bucs play tonight. And White will be doing what most of us are. Watching.
Devin White is no stranger to big-time football having starred at LSU during better years for the storied collegiate program. He is a stranger to the NFL Playoffs though, which is ok. He’s young. Lavonte David isn’t as young, and he knows not to take postseason opportunities for granted because there’s no guarantee when you’ll get another - or one in the case of David’s career.
So you can bet he’ll be a little extra motivated to play this game. Because of its his first shot at the NFL Playoffs, and because his partner in the middle is missing it due to a scheduling decision.
For those same reasons, I expect Minter to come with a little more juice than usual tonight. Because it’s his first crack at it since 2015, and because a win for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gives Devin White his first shot at playoff competition.
This is why Kevin Minter is the X-Factor tonight, against the Washington Football Team.