DE Steve White had a ball against Washington
Pop quiz: Attribute the following quote to the Buccaneer defender who uttered it: "We know one of us out there is going to make a play. It's like we have a different guy step up every week."
Is your answer in? Okay, A's for everyone. See, you couldn't go wrong on this test, because every player on the Bucs' high-energy defense has said this, or some close variation of this, at some point this season. It may be a familiar refrain, but it's a believable one if you've followed the Bucs' season, and it was backed up by yet another illustration last Saturday in the team's NFC Divisional Playoff Game.
DE Steve White, who starts at right end somewhat anonymously on a defense with four Pro Bowl starters, stung the Washington Redskins for two sacks (for 20 yards), a forced fumble and seven tackles in Raymond James Stadium last week, aiding greatly in the Bucs' thrilling 14-13 victory. That effort earned him NFL Defensive Player of the Week honors for the divisional round, the league announced on Tuesday. As opposed to the regular season, the NFL awards just one such honor to all playoff teams in both conferences after each week, not one per conference.
"I am extremely honored to be recognized by the league," White said. "Our entire defense played well against the Redskins and we're looking to continue to play well up in St. Louis."
As White suggest, he was one of several viable Buccaneer options for that award, including LB Derrick Brooks (16 tackles, two tackles for loss in the fourth quarter), S John Lynch (seven tackles, key interception, two passes defensed) and DT Warren Sapp (six tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery). However, White was this week's chosen 'playmaker', and he turned in one of the most important plays of the game in the fourth quarter.
With Tampa Bay trailing 13-7 but finally gaining offensive momentum after a 73-yard touchdown drive, the Redskins began the final period with a drive at their own 28. The Buccaneer defense was playing with unbelievably intensity, but a difficult-to-detect personal foul facemask penalty on LB Shelton Quarles turned a potential third-and-seven at the 31 into a first down at the 46. Another Washington score would have put the Buccaneers into a serious hole, but Brooks shot through the line on first down to drop RB Stephen Davis for a two-yard loss. On second-and-12, White dashed around LT Kipp Vickers and stalked QB Brad Johnson from behind as Johnson began to roll right. Before Johnson could get a throw off, White sacked him from behind and dislodged the ball from Johnson's right hand. Sapp fell on the loose ball for a Buccaneer possession at the Redskins' 32. Tampa Bay would score the winning touchdown 10 plays later.
Though White has been a productive and consistent player for the Buccaneers all season, Saturday's game was clearly his most important effort as a Buccaneer so far. As the playoffs so often can be, it was a coming out party for a player whose name may not have been well-known outside of his own city. White has certainly come a long way for the opportunity. He was originally drafted in the sixth round in 1996 by Philadelphia, which tried to switch him from defensive end to linebacker. After being waived during pre-season as a rookie, he was signed to the Bucs' practice squad a week later and moved up to the active roster six weeks into the season.
White remained on the Bucs' roster for two-and-a-half seasons after that , mostly as a reserve lineman whose on-field action varied from infrequent in 1996 to increased and intriguing in 1998. As the 1999 season approached, White was surprisingly inserted into the starting lineup ahead of three-year starter Regan Upshaw, who was subsequently traded to Jacksonville. White has held that starting RDE position throughout the season, although foot injuries kept him out of three games.
"Steve was really off to a good start and played well for us early on," said Dungy. "He then had some foot problems and wasn't able to practice in the middle portion of the year and is really just starting to get healthy again. The last couple of weeks, he's made some big plays for us, but Steve is one of those guys that because he doesn't say a lot and is not flashy tends to get overlooked. But he's made big plays for us, he's a very smart player and he made a couple yesterday when we really needed them."
For that, he was rewarded with his first player of the week award. Various Buccaneer players have won those honors seven times this season, including DT Warren Sapp, LB Derrick Brooks and CB Donnie Abraham (twice) on defense and K Martin Gramatica and DE John McLaughlin on special teams. White's outing also marked the second straight Tampa Bay playoff game that has seen a Buccaneer defensive lineman become a one-man wrecking crew. Against the Green Bay Packers on 1/4/98, Sapp sacked Green Bay QB Brett Favre three times in what has become a classic duel. Sapp never relented in that ultimately failed team effort, and he saw the same sort of effort from White on Saturday.
"Steve White kept going throughout the whole game," said Sapp. "He kept coming and made the plays all day. His key turnover put us in touchdown range, and he could be our unsung hero. It used to be Pep (DT Brad Culpepper), but now it's Steve."
As Sapp alluded to, Culpepper's years of unflagging production have finally changed his image from under-appreciated overachiever to just plain achiever. An effort like Saturday's could have White headed in the same direction.