Dominance when it matters
Not only did Smith and tight end Rob Gronkowski keep Young from getting to Brady, they relegated him to a non-factor role for most of the game. Young finished the game with a mere three tackles, zero sacks, and zero quarterback hits, and a large part of this came from Donovan Smith.
Even with the other mistakes taken into account in previous games, Smith was able to shine when it matters most. Giving up sacks in blowout losses pales in comparison to a shutout in a playoff game against a team like Washington. Smith was able to rise to the occasion, which is enough to call for a reevaluation of the future.
If Tampa Bay truly has turned over a new leaf and is focusing on the playoffs from now on, keeping a player like Smith makes the most sense. The rookie talent at tackle in this draft class is not what it was in 2020, and a late first-round pick would struggle to replicate the dominance that Smith showed in his first playoff game.
While one game doesn’t have the sample size to decide this alone, any replication of this success down the road should build the likelihood that Smith is retained.
Fans may not like the idea that Smith is returning, but he has improved steadily throughout his tenure with the Buccaneers, and his performance in this game alone is enough to warrant a rise through the ranks of left tackles in the NFL.