New England Patriots legends have been retiring in bunches lately, with Dont’a Hightower becoming the latest on Tuesday, March 21. Aside from former quarterback Tom Brady, however, perhaps none were more important than Hightower to the team’s three Super Bowl championships over the past decade.
In fact, one could argue that without the star linebacker, New England wouldn’t have won any of them.
Dont’a Hightower Was Unsung Hero of Malcolm Butler Game
Let’s rewind to Feb. 1, 2015, when the Patriots played the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. This game is remembered as the “Malcolm Butler game” because of Butler’s game-winning interception during the final minute, sealing New England’s 28-24 victory and first championship in 10 years.
While Butler gets much of the credit for his heroic play, it wouldn’t have happened without Hightower’s game-saving tackle of Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch on the previous play.
If Hightower hadn’t stopped Lynch, “Beast Mode” would have waltzed into the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown. Instead, Seattle was forced to run another play, which ended with quarterback Russell Wilson throwing the ball directly to Butler.
Tackling Lynch in his prime was no easy feat, but Hightower managed to do it on the 1-yard line, setting the stage for Butler’s epic pick.
Patriots’ Historic Super Bowl Comeback Doesn’t Happen Without Dont’a Hightower
Two years later, the Patriots found themselves back in the Super Bowl. The situation was even more dire this time, however, as New England trailed the Atlanta Falcons 28-3 in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI.
Incredibly, the Patriots stormed back to tie the game in the second half before winning in overtime, pulling off the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.
Once again, however, New England probably doesn’t win without a critical fourth-quarter play from Hightower.
This time around, Hightower was the one forcing the turnover. With the Patriots trailing 28-12 in the fourth quarter, Hightower sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on Atlanta’s 25-yard line. Ryan let go of the ball while he was winding up to throw and New England recovered the fumble, setting up a short field and a quick scoring drive for Brady that cut the Falcons’ lead in half.
The Patriots went on to win the game in overtime largely thanks to what is considered the biggest play of Hightower’s career.
Rams Had No Answer For Dont’a Hightower
After losing Super Bowl LII in 2018 to the Philadelphia Eagles, New England returned to a third straight Super Bowl in 2019 — the fifth of Hightower’s career.
After getting torched by Nick Foles and the Eagles the previous year, the Patriots turned in one of the best defensive performances in Super Bowl history. The result was a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl to date.
Hightower once again played a major role in New England’s championship, recording a game-high 2.0 sacks against Rams quarterback Jared Goff and nearly intercepting Goff as well.
Hightower’s strong play helped prevent Los Angeles from scoring any touchdowns, enabling New England to prevail despite managing only 13 points itself.
The Patriots’ gritty win over the Rams yielded their sixth championship of the 21st century and the third of Hightower’s career, solidifying his status as a Super Bowl legend and one of the most significant players in franchise history.