If greatness is measured by making big plays in big moments, New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower has secured his spot in the pantheon of the greatest players in at least franchise history: whenever the spotlight shines the brightest, it seems as if the team’s defensive signal caller is able to get himself into another gear to deliver plays that have a profound impact on the outcome of Super Bowls.
So far in his career, the 28-year old has appeared on the game’s biggest stage three times and in every single one of the Super Bowls he played in, he has made at least one big play.
Super Bowl 49 was the first Super Bowl taste for Hightower and with the Seattle Seahawks knocking on the door late in the 28-24 game, he stopped running back Marshawn Lynch just shy of the goal line:
Dont'a Hightower, big play machine: part 1, Super Bowl 49. pic.twitter.com/5FIkaLFs7v— Bernd Buchmasser (@BerndBuchmasser) February 5, 2019
On the play following Jermaine Kearse’s miraculous catch, Hightower was able to get off a block by offensive tackle Russell Okung to get just enough of the ball carrier to stop his momentum at the 1-yard line. What followed, of course, was Malcolm Butler’s game-clinching interception — the signature play of the Patriots’ fourth Super Bowl win, but one that would not have been possible without Hightower’s effort on the previous play.
Two years later, the Patriots were back in the Super Bowl and the former first-round draft pick made another game-altering play — one of the biggest of the team’s successful comeback from a 28-3 third quarter deficit against the Atlanta Falcons:
Dont'a Hightower, big play machine: part 2, Super Bowl 51. pic.twitter.com/qo6iVDkR3J— Bernd Buchmasser (@BerndBuchmasser) February 5, 2019
On the play, Hightower rushed off the edge to sack quarterback Matt Ryan and force a fumble that was recovered by the Patriots. The veteran disguised the look well, leaving running back Devonta Foreman unsure of his blocking assignment — until it was too late and the rusher was in the backfield to make a play on the ball. Just five plays later, New England was in the end zone and within one score of tying the game.
Fast forward to Sunday’s 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. While the trophy ultimately went to wide receiver Julian Edelman, Hightower had as good a case as any player on the Patriots to be named the game’s MVP given his rate of high-impact plays:
Dont'a Hightower gets the sack on Goff! pic.twitter.com/4RyRPgsFAr— #NobodyDied (@ftbeard_17) February 4, 2019
Dont'a Hightower gets pressure on Goff, forces the throwaway and Rams punt!! pic.twitter.com/t8ljTbfPaX— #NobodyDied (@ftbeard_17) February 4, 2019
DONT'A HIGHTOWER COMES UP WITH THE HUGE SACK ON GOFF!! pic.twitter.com/0RQHmhDU8H— #NobodyDied (@ftbeard_17) February 4, 2019
Overall, he finished with 2.0 sacks and three quarterback hits on the day and nearly registered both an interception and a fumble recovery. All night long, the veteran set the tone for the Patriots defense. And With Hightower leading the charge, the team was able to basically shut down one of the NFL’s high-powered offenses in what can be classified as a defensive performance for the ages.
And once again, this performance was spurred by one of New England’s leaders and most experienced players — one that always finds a way to get even better the more pressure is on him to perform. In short: Super Bowl Dont’a Hightower is something else.