All-Pro linebacker Jerod Mayo has gotten plenty of praise for his game-saving interception on the Patriots 7-yard line with 20 seconds to play in the hold-on-for-your-life, 34-27 win over the Redskins on Sunday in Washington.
But another far less likely contributor at linebacker had a far bigger impact on the play that allowed New England to seal the deal on the road victory.
Tracy White has been a "special teamer" for nearly the entirety of his nine seasons in the NFL. Prior to this season he hadn't started a game on defense since 2004 in Seattle. And he'd only had one season – 2009 in Philly – when he notched more than a single tackle on defense.
But the little-known veteran has been called into defensive duty with regularity over the last month in New England. He earned a starting nod against the Eagles on Nov. 27. For the season he now has 23 tackles on defense to go along with his more predictable team-high 14 special teams stops.
Sunday in Washington he came up with a big play on defense when his team needed it most, putting himself in the right place at the right time. Or, maybe, the White place at the White time!
With Rex Grossman and Washington facing a third-and-goal from the 9, White lined up on the right side of the Patriots defense. At the snap he dropped into zone coverage in the middle of the field. He then saw 'Skins slot receiver Santana Moss cross his face from the defensive right to left. He jumped the route just as Grossman threw the ball.
Grossman's throw to Moss arrived just before White did. On contact White used his left arm to grab Moss' left arm, eliminating Moss from using it to make the catch and spinning the receiver around. White's right arm also reached around in a effort to punch the ball out. Moss used his right arm to try to secure the reception, but without the left hand to pull the ball in Moss actually propelled the football through the air where it landed in Mayo's hands.
Replay review upheld Mayo's diving catch and after Tom Brady's kneel-down, New England left FedEx Field with its 10th win of the season.
Mayo deserves some of the credit for the victory thanks to his second career interception, second in as many weeks.
But White deserves just as much credit or more. He made a key play to key the victory and keep New England on pace in the AFC with the other 10-3 teams. He's also just one of the many special teamers – including Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman, Niko Koutouvides and others – who've been called into regular duty for the Patriots defense.
It hasn't been pretty. It may not be good enough to win in January. But White made one of the biggest plays of his career on Sunday just outside the Nation's Capital to ensure the Patriots win. He's one of 28 different players to have started a game for the New England defense in this struggle of season, but for at least one day, one play, White stood out and made a name for himself.
For that he deserves high praise and a second look via this week's Take Two-sday!