Between the Giants’ Super Bowl wins over Tom Brady and the Patriots in 2008 and 2012, Justin Tuck recorded four sacks, five QB hits and a forced fumble. His disruption of New England’s typically composed offense set the table for what remains among the deepest scratches on Brady’s resume.
Largely because of Tuck, the narrative has been that the only way to beat a Brady team in the postseason is by applying constant pressure. So when the Washington Football Team meets Brady’s Buccaneers on Saturday night in the wild-card round of the 2021 playoffs, it will need to frazzle the 43-year-old to stand a chance of an upset.
Rookie Chase Young and second-year pro Montez Sweat will be asked to perform beyond their years in chasing Brady down. Young was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Sweat was the No. 26 overall selection in 2019.
After clinching a playoff berth Sunday night, Young signaled his readiness for the task, shouting as he left the field, “Tom Brady I’m coming.” He didn’t back down later in the week when his own coach Ron Rivera said he “cringed a little bit” at video of the trash talk and Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians warned him to “watch what you wish for.”
Few would favor a rookie over Brady, particularly when that rookie plays for a sub-.500 team, but Young has hope of at least making a strong postseason debut against Tampa Bay. This isn’t some scrub opening his mouth.
“He’s a guy that can come in and impact our football team,” Rivera said when Washington drafted Young. “Not just his position, not just the defense, but our football team.”
In Rivera, Young has an ideal defensive tutor who has helped develop stars up front over the course of his career as a coordinator and head coach. Rivera’s Panthers teams got the best out of Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy and Mario Addison among others. Rivera’s time as a player and staffer with elite Bears defenses furthered his sharpness.
Rivera’s renowned ability to connect with young personalities like Young off the field is one of the main reasons Washington hired him. Urban Meyer, another highly respected football mind, also mentored Young for a time at Ohio State.
Of course, Young’s natural talent, seen below in clips from his rookie season, has simplified things for his coaches.
The Buccaneers do possess one of the better blocking units in the NFL — the group allowed the fourth-fewest sacks in the league, forcing most opponents to bring extra bodies in order to manufacture pressure on the quarterback while leaving secondaries exposed to an explosive set of Tampa Bay receivers.
But attention given to Sweat, who logged nine sacks this year amid his rise into star territory, could open things up for Young despite Brady’s trusted protection. That’s the magic of having a stellar rushing combo rather than an individual troublemaker, and why many of the most dangerous defensive fronts of the past 20 years featured at least two stars on the edge. The Giants had Tuck and Michael Strahan, then Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, then Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. The Colts had Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The Saints had Joe Johnson and Darren Howard (and on the inside, La’Roi Glover). The Cowboys had DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis.
In a couple of years, if best-case possibilities are realized, Sweat and Young could combine for a sack tally up there with the best seasons those above tandems produced. It’s not a stretch to envision both reaching double-digit quarterback takedowns in a single year.
That doesn’t mean Washington fans should enter Saturday night expecting their overmatched team to stun the Buccaneers. Not when their quarterback, Alex Smith, is a tenuous medical miracle in no way operating at a playoff level.
They can at least be optimistic, however, that Brady’s time in the pocket might be limited.
“I’m definitely excited to play the GOAT,” Young told reporters this week. “They say the greatest of all time. It’s go time.”