By Matt McCarthy, 985TheSportsHub.com
Bill Belichick has been blessed with outstanding linebackers for much of his tenure in New England.
Tedy Bruschi was the definition of a playmaker, Willie McGinest was a force to be reckoned with in opposing backfields, and Mike Vrabel did everything. Ted Johnson was a beast, Roman Phifer could flat-out play, and Jerod Mayo was as solid as they come.
Now it’s fair to ask if Dont’a Hightower is the best of them all.
If he isn’t the best linebacker of the Patriots dynasty, he’s certainly on the shortlist. Hightower's track record in Super Bowls and big games speaks for itself.
It’s probably impossible to truly determine which linebacker of the Patriots dynasty has been the best, there have been too many great ones, but few defensive players in team history have made as many big plays in the big moments like Hightower.
He has left an indeliable mark on the Patriots.
In Super Bowl XLIX, he made the game-saving tackle on Marshawn Lynch on the 1-yard line. The very next play, Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson.
In Super Bowl LI, he strip-sacked Matt Ryan, sparking the greatest comeback in NFL history.
He was on injured reserve and couldn’t play in Super Bowl LII. Had he been out there, it’s hard to see the Patriots giving up 41 points to a backup quarterback. His importance to the defense can't be understated.
And then there’s Sunday. Hightower was a monster against the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
Dont'a Hightower was one of the biggest differences in the game. Set the tone early. pic.twitter.com/uQxC2RG9dR
— Sanjit T. (@Sanjit__T) February 5, 2019
He was a beast.
Dont'a Hightower with the long arm/forklift. Pressures & buries Goff into the turf! #SuperBowl
— DLineVids (@DLineVids) February 4, 2019
He was a game-wrecker.
DONT'A HIGHTOWER COMES UP WITH THE HUGE SACK ON GOFF!! pic.twitter.com/0RQHmhDU8H
— #NobodyDied (@ftbeard_17) February 4, 2019
The Patriots wouldn't have won on Sunday without Hightower. His performance against the Rams was dominating. It was one of the best games of his career.
It's hard to find many better big game defensive players in team history than Hightower. Ty Law comes to mind, and McGinest, Bruschi, and Vrabel all had a knack for making huge plays, but you could argue that no defensive player in team history had three better Super Bowls in a row than Hightower.
His legacy as one of the truly great Patriots linebackers of the last 20 years is now cemented. Make room Bruschi, McGinest, and Vrabel, you have company now.
Dont'a Hightower has taken his place among the greats.
You can hear Matt McCarthy on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.