There are several ways to look at defensive excellence in the Super Bowl.
Dominant defensive units like the 1985 Chicago Bears, 2000 Baltimore Ravens and Steel Curtain of the 1970s powered their organizations to championship glory. There are also iconic defensive plays that propelled teams to titles, like Malcolm Butler’s goal-line interception, James Harrison’s electrifying pick-six and Mike Jones’ game-sealing tackle.
Another spot that reflects defensive greatness is the stat sheet. While they may not get screen time on highlight reels shown each February, the single-game leaders for tackles, sacks and interceptions in the Super Bowl have a spot atop the record books.
Here’s a look back at some players who reminded people that “defense wins championships.”
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Which NFL player has the most tackles in a single Super Bowl?
Three of the top seven tackling performances in Super Bowl history came from the same defense.
Dan Morgan holds the record for single-game tackles, amounting 18 for the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII against the New England Patriots. No. 3 on the list is Panthers safety Mike Minter with 14, while linebacker Will Witherspoon is tied for No. 4 all-time with 13 – all in the same game.
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The tackles were abundant for the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, but so were yards and points allowed. Tom Brady and the Patriots offense tallied 481 total yards and came away with a riveting 32-39 victory thanks to a game-winning field goal from Adam Vinatieri.
Here is the full top 10 list for tackling performances in Super Bowl history:
1. Dan Morgan, Panthers, XXXVIII: 18
2. Jeff Siemon, Vikings, XI: 15
3. Mike Minter, Panthers, XXXVIII: 14
T-4. Keanu Neal, Falcons, LI: 13
T-4. Lance Briggs, Bears, XLI: 13
T-4. Will Witherspoon, Panthers, XXXVIII: 13
T-4. Eric Barton, Raiders, XXXVII: 13
T-8. Devin White, Buccaneers, LV: 12
T-8. Bobby Wagner, Seahawks, XLIX: 12
T-8. Danny Trevathan, Broncos, XLVIII: 12
T-8. Rodney Harrison, Patriots, XLII: 12
T-8. Rodney Harrison, Patriots, XXXIX: 12
Which NFL player has the most sacks in a single Super Bowl?
Roger Staubach got to know L.C. Greenwood quite a bit during Super Bowl X.
Greenwood picked up a Super Bowl-record four sacks in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 21-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. The number is even more staggering considering he was named an All-Pro that year after compiling 6.5 sacks over the entire regular season.
The Steelers defense as a whole made life hard for Staubach and the Cowboys offense that day. Pittsburgh tallied seven sacks and three interceptions on its way to a second straight championship.
Beyond Greenwood, only eight players have ever recorded more than two sacks in a Super Bowl. Here is a look at the top 10 for single-game Super Bowl sacks:
1. L.C. Greenwood, Steelers, X: 4.0
T-2. Grady Jarrett, Falcons, LI: 3.0
T-2. Kony Ealy, Panthers, 50: 3.0
T-2. Darnell Dockett, Cardinals, XLIII: 3.0
T-2. Reggie White, Packers, XXXI: 3.0
T-2. Willie Davis, Packers, II: 3.0
T-7. Trey Flowers, Patriots, LI: 2.5
T-7. Von Miller, Broncos, 50: 2.5
T-7. Tom Keating, Raiders, II: 2.5
10. 28 players: 2.0
Which NFL player has the most interceptions in a single Super Bowl?
Rod Martin caught the third-most passes from Ron Jaworski in Super Bowl XV, and that’s bad news for Jaws.
Martin picked off Jaworski three times in the Oakland Raiders’ 27-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The quarterback finished the day with 291 passing yards, but the team failed to get into the end zone until the fourth quarter in its first ever Super Bowl appearance.
Aside from Martin’s three-pick performance, only 11 other players have intercepted two passes in the same Super Bowl. Two of those outings came from a pair of teammates as Dexter Jackson and Dwight Smith combined for four interceptions in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Super Bowl XXXVII win over the Raiders.
Below are all of the players with a multi-interception game in the Super Bowl:
1. Rod Martin, Raiders, XV: 3
T-2. Rodney Harrison, Patriots, XXXIX: 2
T-2. Dexter Jackson, Buccaneers, XXXVII: 2
T-2. Dwight Smith, Buccaneers, XXXVII: 2
T-2. Darrien Gordon, Broncos, XXXIII: 2
T-2. Larry Brown, Cowboys, XXX: 2
T-2. Thomas Everett, Cowboys, XXVII: 2
T-2. Brad Edwards, Washington, XXVI: 2
T-2. Barry Wilburn, Washington, XXII: 2
T-2. Jake Scott, Dolphins, VII: 2
T-2. Chuck Howley, Cowboys, V: 2
T-2. Randy Beverly, Jets, III: 2
How many defensive players have won Super Bowl MVP?
It takes more than a record-setting performance to win Super Bowl MVP as a defensive player, as none of the aforementioned single-game leaders took home the award.
Through 56 Super Bowls, only nine contests have featured a defensive player winning MVP. Von Miller was the most recent player to do so, picking up 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles during the Denver Broncos’ 24-10 win over the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
As tough as it is to become Super Bowl MVP on defense, there is one important element that is not actually essential to earn the honor: winning the game.
The first defensive player to win game MVP came from the losing side in Super Bowl V. Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley received the distinction after intercepting two passes in a 16-13 loss to the Baltimore Colts. Outside of Howley, all other Super Bowl MVPs – offense and defense – have come from winning teams, a trend that may never be broken again.
Another one-time instance that features defensive players winning game MVP happened in Super Bowl XII. Cowboys defensive linemen Harvey Martin and Randy White were both named MVPs after shutting down Craig Morton and the Broncos, marking the only time co-MVPs have been named for the Super Bowl.
Here are all of the defensive players to be named Super Bowl MVP:
V: Chuck Howley, linebacker, Cowboys
VII: Jake Scott, safety, Dolphins
XII: Harvey Martin/Randy White, defensive linemen, Cowboys
XX: Richard Dent, defensive end, Bears
XXX: Larry Brown, cornerback, Cowboys
XXXV: Ray Lewis, linebacker, Ravens
XXXVII: Dexter Jackson, cornerback, Buccaneers
XLVIII: Malcolm Smith, linebacker, Seahawks
50: Von Miller, linebacker, Broncos