Hightower rises to the top in third Super Bowl win
Dont’a Hightower is the best player I ever saw in high school and his prep excellence earned him a scholarship to the University of Alabama where he had a storied career as a two-time team captain for the Crimson Tide, roaming the middle of Nick Saban’s defense to earn two national titles.
Saban is one of the top college football coaches of all-time and the same thing Saban saw in high school, Bill Belichick saw at Tuscaloosa.
Belichick, who is now tied with George Halas and Curly Lambeau with six NFL world championships, drafted Hightower with the 25th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and the Patriots’ coach struck gold.
Hightower is in his seventh season at New England and has played in 15 playoff games and five Super Bowls that have produced three world championships, including a 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in Super Bowl LIII at Atlanta.
In all three of those Super Bowl victories, the Marshall County High School graduate and 2007 Tennessee Titans Class 3A Mr. Football Lineman of the Year made game-changing plays that have directly led to Patriot wins.
In Super Bowl XLIX Hightower made a crushing tackle on Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch at the one-yard line before Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson at the goal line to seal the win.
Two years later in Super Bowl LI, Hightower sparked a New England comeback with a strip sack on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan that turned the momentum in the Patriots favor for a 34-28 overtime win.
After losing to the Philadelphia Eagles last year in Super Bowl LII, the Patriots earned their way back to face Rams on Sunday and Hightower shined bright once again as the veteran leader of the Patriots’ defense that held the high-flying Rams to a measly three points.
“We’ve got a special group,” Hightower said in the post-game interview Sunday night at Atlanta. “We’d rather have all the 99 guys on Madden and all that other [stuff], but we’re a good team. We work together, we’re smart, we know what we need to do and we play well together, and we did that tonight.”
Teams that have scored fewer than 10 points in a Super Bowl are 0-17 all-time.
Hightower came up with two huge sacks on Rams quarterback Jared Goff and just missed a third sack on a quarterback hit, plus he almost had an interception on a broken up pass play and he jarred a ball loose from a Rams receiver with a bludgeoning left hand.
“If you can get to the quarterback and make him uncomfortable, make him wonder what rushes are coming, what coverages are coming, it’s something we’re good at,” Hightower said about pressuring Goff. “Getting pressure inside, no quarterback likes it. We were able to get there often. Sometimes we might have been late, but we kind of tapped him on his butt to let him know we were there. Some guys don’t like that.”
The 13-3 win was the lowest scoring Super Bowl in history as the Hightower led New England defense stoned the Rams on the ground, giving up just 62 yards rushing and 198 net passing yards to the vaunted Los Angeles offense that came into the world title tilt averaging 28 points per game in the postseason and 32.9 in the regular season.
“The last month or so we have been playing the way we want to play and we were able to come out and play physical on that side of the ball,” Hightower said. “It feels good to win, to get it all, this is a team thing, so it feels good to win.”
Hightower played 86 percent of the snaps in the game that the Patriots won the all-important time of possession battle, 33:10-to-26:50 and held the Rams to two first downs in the first half and 12 in the second half.
Hightower has a 12-3 postseason record with one interception, a forced fumble and fumble recovery, three sacks, 45 solo tackles, 24 assists, 10 tackles for losses, and eight quarterback hits.
He signed a four-year 43.5 million dollar contract before the start of the 2017 season and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2016 and three All-Pro Teams in his career.