Remembering key hits throughout history

When linebacker Mike Jones pulled down ball-carrying receiver Kevin Dyson 1 yard short of the goal line on the game’s final play, Jones understood he had preserved the St. Louis Rams’ 23-16 win against the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.

What he couldn’t have known is that his game-saving takedown on Jan. 30, 2000, would soon become known by many as the most memorable stop in NFL history. It is sometimes referred to simply as “The Tackle.”

But the NFL has known a long list of important tackles, including others that have occurred in the Super Bowl. Here are some crucial stops that have earned a place in pro football lore:

Chuck Bednarik on Frank Gifford, 1960

Bednarik is often referred to as the NFL’s last two-way player, but he was playing linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 20, 1960, when he delivered a ferocious hit on New York Giants receiver Gifford. 

The teams were battling for first place and the Eagles were clinging to a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter when Gifford caught a pass and headed toward the sideline with the hope of stopping the clock. He never made it because Bednarik leveled him, causing Gifford to fumble.

Gifford was hospitalized with a concussion and didn’t play again until the 1962 season. The stop might have launched the Eagles’ drive to the 1960 NFL championship.

Bednarik had an equally important hit in the title game against the Green Bay Packers. On the final play of the Eagles’ 17-13 win, he tackled future Hall of Fame running back Jim Taylor at the Eagles’ 10-yard line. He took his time getting off Taylor as time expired.

Von Miller on Cam Newton, 2016

The Denver Broncos were the underdogs in Super Bowl 50 against the Carolina Panthers, but Broncos linebacker Miller changed the perspective of the game with a dramatic first-quarter sack.

On a third-and-10 from his own 15, Newton dropped back in the pocket and was sacked by Miller, who was rushing off the edge.

The ball popped free, and Malik Jackson recovered in the end zone to give the Broncos a 10-0 lead. The Panthers never recovered.

With more than four minutes left in regulation, Miller stripped the ball away from Newton again to quash a potential game-winning rally as Denver won 24-10. Miller was named Super Bowl MVP, finishing with six tackles, 2 1/2 sacks and the forced fumbles.

More: Super Bowl Opening Night: 10 key questions for New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams

Lawrence Taylor on Joe Theismann, 1985

An ESPN poll once selected Taylor’s tackle on Theismann as “the most shocking moment in NFL history.”

On Nov. 18, 1985, the New York Giants were blitzing and caught the Washington Redskins trying a flea-flicker play. Immediately after John Riggins lateraled to Theismann, he was crushed by Taylor. His leg folded awkwardly under him.

Harry Carson was also involved in bringing down Theismann. When players peeled off the pile, Taylor began to signal frantically for medical help for Theismann, who had suffered a hideous compound fracture of his leg. Slow-motion video is still difficult to watch because it shows the leg at an unnatural angle from his body.

The tackle had two major impacts: It ended Theismann’s career and it brought an awareness to the importance of protecting the quarterback’s blind side. In today’s game, there is considerable emphasis on having a quality left tackle.

Mo Lewis on Drew Bledsoe, 2001

When Lewis laid a jarring hit to Bledsoe’s chest near the sideline during the fourth quarter of the New York Jets-New England Patriots game on Sept. 23, 2001, no one had any idea it would change the course of NFL history.

Everyone was concerned about Bledsoe’s health. He suffered what were considered life-threatening injuries, including a concussion and internal bleeding. But that diagnosis didn’t come until much later. After the game, Bledsoe was taken by ambulance to the hospital and passed out on his way there. When he woke up, he found there was a tube in his chest.

Bledsoe did end up playing the next series, and only then did it become apparent that he had a concussion. With New England trailing by seven, Bledsoe was pulled and Tom Brady entered with 2:16 left in the fourth quarter. Brady picked up three first downs, but his comeback hopes fell incomplete near the goal line.

But with Bledsoe injured, this was the day Brady took over as quarterback in New England. He beat the Indianapolis Colts 44-13 in the next game, and New England was 11-3 the rest of the way. With Brady at quarterback, the Patriots upset the Rams in the Super Bowl. Everyone knows the rest of the story. But the story might have been different if Lewis had missed Bledsoe that day.

Dont’a Hightower on Matt Ryan, 2017

The Patriots’ 25-point comeback to win Super Bowl LI, considered the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, was triggered by Hightower’s strip-sack of the Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback.

Atlanta led 28-9 going into the fourth quarter. The Patriots needed a spark, and Hightower gave it to them.

Replays show it took the blitzing Hightower only 2.7 seconds to level Ryan and cause a fumble. New England trailed 28-12 at the time, and the consensus was this was the turning point of the game.

It led to a Brady touchdown pass and two-point conversion to cut the lead to 28-20. Before it was over, the Patriots had 19 fourth-quarter points and then won on a 2-yard touchdown run by James White in overtime.

Before Hightower launched the comeback effort, teams holding a lead of 17 or more points in the fourth quarter had been 133-0 in the NFL postseason since 1940.

Ben Roethlisberger on Nick Harper, 2006

That’s not an error. One of the most memorable tackles in NFL postseason history involved a quarterback making a crucial stop against a safety.

Roethlisberger’s Pittsburgh Steelers led 21-18 with 1:05 remaining against the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 15, 2006. They were at the Colts’ 2-yard line, ready to put away the game. Roethlisberger handed the ball to Jerome Bettis, expecting he would deliver the insurance touchdown.

Instead, the ball popped out of his hands when he was tackled. Harper scooped it up and was in full gallop toward what easily could have been a game-winning score. It would have been a devastating turn of events for the Steelers, who once led by 18 points.

However, Roethlisberger had other ideas. While Harper was picking up the ball, the quarterback began running toward his own goal line. Because Harper had blockers with him, Roethlisberger was the only person with a shot to tackle him. As Harper reached Roethlisberger, the big, bulky quarterback dived back and grabbed Harper around the ankles to bring him down. Harper had reached the Indianapolis 40 when he was felled.

The Colts drove to field-goal range but missed the tying kick. Roethlisberger’s tackle had saved the day. How big was the stop? The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl.