The New England Patriots are back atop the pinnacle of the National Football League. Fans inside the University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, Ariz.) looked on as the Patriots hoisted a Vince Lombardi Trophy for the fourth time in franchise history.
Rookie free agent Malcolm Bulter sealed the deal with an interception late in the fourth quarter. New England celebrates a 28-24 victory, but it doesn’t achieve immortality without linebacker Dont’a Hightower. He anchored a defense that allowed 104.3 rushing yards per game (9th in the NFL).
New England lost its star middle linebacker Jerod Mayo to a torn patellar tendon in Week 6 against the Buffalo Bills. Dont’a Hightower was forced to step up. He totaled 89 tackles, six sacks, two passes defended and a forced fumble in the 2014 regular season.
Hightower’s game intensified during postseason play. He recorded eight stops in New England’s 35-31 victory over Baltimore in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game. Its matchup against Indianapolis was an offensive affair, but Hightower made his presence felt for New England defensively. He collected three tackles in the Patriots’ 45-7 thrashing of the Colts.
Super Bowl 49 was a roller coaster battle. Two fierce gladiators exchanging blows, and despite Seattle outgaining New England 396-377, it’s the Patriots that emerged victorious. Hightower finished the game with five tackles. He made some huge plays in run support. Seattle converted just 3 of 10 third downs (30 percent).
Hightower becomes the fifth former Alabama player under Nick Saban to win a Super Bowl title. Courtney Upshaw, Terrence Cody, James Carpenter and Jesse Williams are the other four.
Hightower isn’t a stranger to success. He was a part of two BCS national championship teams at Alabama (2009, 2011 seasons). The former Consensus All-American also has a Southeastern Conference title to his credit in 2009.
Alabama had 17 participants in the 2014 NFL Playoffs, more than any other program in college football. Congratulations to Hightower on becoming a champion, and helping New England win Super Bowl 49.