Former Pitt safety Jordan Whitehead played in the NFC Championship Game as a starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, and thanks in part to his efforts, the team earned a 31-26 win over the Green Bay Packers and punched its ticket to Super Bowl LV.
Whitehead was a key defensive contributor for the Buccaneers and racked up five tackles in the game. But he made his mark with about eight minutes left in the second quarter, when he squared up Packers running back Aaron Jones and popped the ball out of his arms. Packers tight end Robert Tonyan was there to scoop up the fumble, so nothing came of Whitehead’s play. But it would not be the last time Whitehead made an impact.
About a minute into the third quarter, Whitehead and Jones met once again, and once again, the Pitt product shot through Jones like a missile and dislodged the ball. This time, Tonyan would not be around to bail out Jones, though, and the fumble was recovered by Buccaneers linebacker Devin White at the Packers’ 29-yard line. White returned it 21 yards to set up Tom Brady and the Buccaneers offense with a goal-to-go situation that they quickly cashed in on.
BUCS FORCE THE AARON JONES FUMBLE AND RECOVER— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 24, 2021
Unfortunately for Whitehead, his second forced fumble would be his last major contribution of the day, as he suffered a shoulder injury while tackling Packers running back Jamaal Williams on the first play of the Packers’ next drive. As a result, he left the field and was checked out in the medical tent before the medical staff ruled him out for the remainder of the game.
The injury was a concerning development, as it appeared it could hold Whitehead out of the Super Bowl. But after the game, Whitehead told Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com that he “most definitely” believes he will play in the big game on Feb. 7. And while that does not mean he has been greenlighted by the team’s medical staff, it is a positive sign for the time being.
If Whitehead takes the field with the Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV, it will mark the fifth straight year that a Pitt alum has served as a starter on a Super Bowl team. In 2020, K’Waun Williams started at cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers; in 2019, Aaron Donald started on the defensive line of the Los Angeles Rams; and in 2018 and 2017, Dion Lewis was a starting kick returner for the New England Patriots as well as a running back.
Whitehead will not be the only Pitt alum in attendance for the Super Bowl, as he will be joined by former Pitt running back LeSean McCoy, who is now a backup for the Bucs, and former Pitt track star Roger Kingdom, who is the team’s speed and conditioning coach.
In Super Bowl LV, the Buccaneers will face the defending champions in the Kansas City Chiefs, who boast no Pitt connections on their active roster. The Buccaneers will be the first team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl on their home field, as the game will be played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, and it will get underway at 6:30 p.m. ET.