The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may not have been a playoff-relevant contender until Tom Brady came to town, but make no mistake: their defense played a huge role in leading the franchise to Super Bowl LV.
Just ask the quarterbacks who faced them.
After escaping past Taylor Heinicke and the Washington Football Team in the Wild Card round, the Buccaneers faced a gauntlet of future Hall of Fame QBs in Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. Yet the Buccaneers managed to beat each one due in part to the pressure their defense put on each signal caller.
Incredibly, one of the best performances put together against that Buccaneers defense was not by the likes of Mahomes or Brees, but by the former undrafted QB Heinicke. Take a look at the numbers each quarterback managed against the Buccaneers during the playoffs.
Heinicke: 26/44, 304 yards, two total TDs (one rushing), one INT, 46 rushing yards
Brees: 19/34, 134 yards, one TD, three INTs, three rushing yards
Rodgers: 33/48, 346 yards, three TDs, one INT, zero rushing yards
Mahomes: 26/49, 270 yards, zero TDs, two INTs, 33 rushing yards
Rodgers, who went on to win MVP, still compiled Rodgers-esque numbers. But Heinicke, making only his second career start, held his own in a performance that ultimately landed him a two-year contract with Washington this offseason.
Speaking with 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies on Thursday morning, Heinicke was asked why he was able to succeed against the Buccaneers’ defense when Brees and Mahomes did not. The journeyman quarterback pointed to his offensive line for giving him enough time to make some plays.
“One thing I do go back and look at is how awesome that defensive line played throughout the rest of the playoffs,” Heinicke said. “They were just killer [and] a huge problem for those other offenses and I go back and look at our game, our offensive line played their a** off and they kept me clean for most of the game. So kudos to them. If it wasn’t for them, this all wouldn’t be happening right now.”
How effective was that offensive line? Here are the numbers for how often Tampa Bay got to each opposing quarterback.
Heinicke: Two sacks (17 yards), two QB hurries, four knockdowns, eight total pressures, 2.93 TT*
Brees: Zero sacks, four QB hurries, three knockdowns, seven total pressures, 2.53 TT*
Rodgers: Five sacks (32 yards), two QB hurries, three knockdowns, 10 total pressures, 2.60 TT*
Mahomes: Three sacks (27 yards), 11 QB hurries, seven knockdowns, 21 total pressures, 3.47 TT*
*From NFL’s Next Gen Stats: “Time to Throw (TT) measures the average amount of time elapsed from the time of snap to throw on every pass attempt for a passer (sacks excluded).”
Heinicke attempted 10 more passes than Brees but was only pressured once more. Rodgers was sacked three more times than Heinicke while only Mahomes averaged more time between snaps and throws – a number pulled up by Mahomes’s numerous scrambles that ended in last-second passes.
It helped that the Buccaneers were without star linebacker Devin White, but Washington’s offensive line still had an impressive performance that gave Heinicke a chance to shine on the playoff stage. One month later, he has a new contract as a result.
For more interviews, tune into the Sports Junkies on NBC Sports Washington weekdays from 6-10 a.m.