Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots forces a fumble from Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons during the fourth quarter during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium
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Dont'a Hightower's Super Bowl LI Strip Sack Cemented His NFL Legacy

After a great — albeit injury-riddled — career, New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower has decided to retire. The 33-year-old was taken in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, playing his entire career under Bill Belichick in New England. While there are many Hightower moments throughout the past decade that caught our attention, one in particular seems to come to mind immediately.

Dont'a Hightower Saves the Patriots' Super Bowl LI Comeback

Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons looks to get his pass off under pressure from Dont'a Hightower #54 New England Patriots during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium

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In what is known to be the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, the Atlanta Falcons had led the New England Patriots by as much as 25 points in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI. New England had managed to bring the game to a 16-point deficit, and it had Atlanta going for a third-and-1 from its own 35-yard line with 8:35 remaining in the game. What happened next was the spark needed to build momentum for a historic comeback.

As Matt Ryan takes the snap out of the shotgun, Hightower comes flying in off the edge, blowing past two players who didn't even see him coming. Then Ryan became the third who didn't see him, despite Hightower coming from his strong side. It only took three seconds from when the ball was snapped for Hightower to pop Ryan as he set to throw, stripping the ball loose. Alan Branch fell on the ball at the 25-yard line, and the Patriots went on to score 16 more points in eight minutes, tying the game before winning it in OT.

Of course, there were many plays in this game that led to the comeback. But Hightower's strip sack may have been the true catalyst.

Another Defensive Legend in New England

Linebacker Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots reacts after making a defensive play in the second quarter of the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium

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Over the course of his career of more than a decade, Hightower was a living legend in Foxborough, Massachusetts. After winning two national championships with the Alabama Crimson Tide, Hightower entered the NFL and continued to rack up the trophies. He lifted the Lombardi Trophy against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, the Falcons in Super Bowl LII and the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LII. In addition to those victories, he was elected to the Pro Bowl twice and named to the Second Team All-Pro.

His 27 sacks, two defensive touchdowns, two forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and single interception may not be remembered by Patriots fans. But his hard work, grit and effort — in addition to one particular strip sack — will live on for some time throughout New England.

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