Patriots Coaches Explain What Made Dont’a Hightower’s Super Bowl Strip Sack Possible


Aug 30, 2017

Dont’a Hightower’s strip sack of Matt Ryan helped make the New England Patriots’ historic Super Bowl LI comeback possible.

This is the story behind how that game-changing play came to be.

First, a quick recap for those who don’t remember: The Atlanta Falcons led the Patriots 28-12 with 8:35 remaining in the fourth quarter when Hightower blitzed off the left edge, blew past running back Devonta Freeman and buried Ryan, knocking the ball loose. Alan Branch recovered, and New England scored on the ensuing possession en route to a 34-28 overtime victory.

In “Do Your Job Part 2: Bill Belichick and the 2016 Patriots,” an NFL Films documentary set to premiere this Sunday on NBC, Belichick and several members of his coaching staff broke down the pivotal moments from New England’s fifth Super Bowl victory, including Hightower’s sack.

“On the play before that, (Falcons running back Tevin) Coleman got hurt,” Belichick said in the film. “The trainers came out, and we saw him going off the field. Then we knew that Freeman would be in there, and let’s say blitz pickup was an area that we noticed that he had some trouble with.”

“Once we saw that, and I was like, ‘All right, we’re going to pressure here,’ I literally clicked onto (Hightower’s headset) and said, ‘Hey, this is scoop and score,’ ” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “‘You got this.’ ”

Pass blocking is not Freeman’s forte. He never saw Hightower until it was too late.

“Hightower lined (up) a little bit wider,” linebackers coach Brian Flores said, “and that was the difference between Freeman thinking he was coming or not coming. … I think if Freeman would have gotten a little piece of him, maybe the ball doesn’t come out. So that was a great play by (Hightower), great adjustment by him.”

Patricia added: “I think when the ball was snapped, High just had such a great angle that by the time the back got his eyes outside and realized, ‘Oh, there he is,’ High is gone.”

Had Hightower gotten to Ryan a half-second later, the quarterback might have been able to connect with wide receiver Aldrick Robinson, who was open deep downfield after beating Malcolm Butler off the line.

“We were probably just a fraction of a second away from it being a bad play,” Belichick said. “They had some separation. But our rush got there just in time.”

That it did. The Patriots defense made several more clutch plays later in the game to prevent Atlanta from attempting what would have been a game-sealing field goal, and Tom Brady and the offense were nearly flawless during the fourth quarter and overtime.

“We spend a lot of time on fundamentals here, and I think as you look at teams throughout the season, one of the things that breaks down is their fundamentals,” Patricia said. “Pad level, tackling, focus on the ball. And if you can really maintain that stuff all the way through the year and you’re playing at your highest level, that’s what you’re going to revert to in the end.”

“Do Your Job Part 2” will premiere this Sunday at 7 p.m. ET on NBC. It will re-air Wednesday, Sept. 6, at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network.

Thumbnail photo via Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports Images

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