It can’t be easy being a rookie wide receiver on a team where you fall behind the likes of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller, and Cameron Brate in the pecking order. For Tyler Johnson, that’s been exactly the case.
Johnson, who led the Big Ten in receptions and receiving yards in 2019, was a fifth-round pick for the Buccaneers and head coach Bruce Arians was astonished at the skills Johnson displayed during the Outback Bowl in Raymond James Stadium.
Still, his opportunity was limited. He finished his rookie campaign with seventeen targets, twelve receptions, 169 yards, and two touchdowns. Still, he was on a great team and headed to the postseason in his first season.
In both the divisional round and the NFC Championship, Johnson saw limited snaps. That said, the snaps he had were impactful. Late in each game on crucial third downs, Johnson’s number was called and Brady trusted the rookie receiver to come up big in high pressure situations.
Against the Saints, it was third-and-eleven. What we saw might go down as the best catch of the entire postseason;
In the NFC Championship, it was third-and-four with 1:46 to play. Brady threw to a crossing Johnson who was held (twice) by Kevin King. Defensive pass interference was called and the Bucs moved the chains.
Two games in a row, two crucial moments, two times Tyler Johnson was the guy. I asked Johnson what it is about these moments - and about his relationship with Brady - that allows Brady to trust him to make these kinds of plays;
“It’s crazy, really. I just come in to work every day and just grind, really. I had a phase where I was upset about some things, but at the end of the day I didn’t stop doing what I loved to do - and that’s definitely to play football. I come in here every day, work my tail off, I’m learning. Even when I’m doing something wrong or not doing it the correct way, coach or Tom will tell me the correct way or how to do it.
That’s why - and it’s still unreal to me - that Tom definitely trusts me on that type of level. Me, being the confident player that I am, I expect that. Just for me to be in the right spots at the right time whenever the situation comes has been huge, though.
Huge, indeed. Johnson will likely continue to get opportunities in Super Bowl LV. He’s shown on the biggest stages of his life that when he’s called upon, he can - and will - deliver.