It seems like the Super Bowl just keeps growing every year. One of the reasons why people tune in is because they don’t want to miss out on a moment that will go down in history. To recap some of those special moments, we’re taking a look at the best Super Bowl plays of all time, concentrating on the last two decades of action.
Since the turn of the millennium, football fans have watched some of the most amazing Super Bowl games ever (and bet on them, too). From the Patriots dynasty to incredible to last-second thrillers to unbelievable upsets, the game has had it all. And of course, there have been a great many scintillating plays along the way.
With that in mind, we’re here to take a look at the best Super Bowl plays of all time. We’re focusing on the last 18 years of action. And we’re choosing one play per game to get a complete overview of this time period. In case you missed them earlier, here’s where you can find part one and part two of this series.
Super Bowl XXXVII: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48, Oakland Raiders 21
Raider quarterback Rich Gannon was coming off one of the most efficient seasons in NFL history. But he didn’t account for the Buccaneer defense, which would pick him off five times. The first of those by Dexter Jackson (who would end up with two picks and be named MVP) set up a go-ahead second-quarter field goal and put Tampa on their way.
Super Bowl XXXVIII: New England Patriots 32, Carolina Panthers 29
The Panthers gamely fought back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie the score. And it looked the game might be headed for overtime when the Pats faced a third down on their final drive. That’s when Tom Brady hit Deion Branch for a clutch 17-yard completion, setting up Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal.
Super Bowl XXXIX: New England Patriots 24, Philadelphia Eagles 21
Although the Eagles scored the game’s final points to cut the deficit to three, they were roundly criticized for taking way too long to do so with huddles and delays between plays. As a result, they had only 46 seconds left when they got the ball back for a final drive. And that drive ended with the Pats’ Rodney Harrison’s clinching interception of Donovan McNabb.
Super Bowl XL: Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Seattle Seahawks 10
Veteran running back Jerome Bettis was the heart and soul of this Steeler squad. But it was his backfield running mate Willie Parker who made the game-changing play. His 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter opened up a tight, sloppy contest.
Super Bowl XLI: Indianapolis Colts 29. Chicago Bears 17
In his first ever Super Bowl, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was challenged all night by a rugged Bears’ defense. Thus, he was fortunate his own defense stepped up. In particular, Kelvin Hayden’s 56-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth-quarter gave Indy the cushion it needed.
Super Bowl XLII: New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14
This game was a nail-biter for pro sports bettors. The Patriots held a late 14-10 lead as they tried to become the second NFL team to go undefeated and win a Super Bowl. But Eli Manning escaped the grasp of a defender and made a desperation third-down heave to little-used Giant receiver David Tyree on their final drive. Tyree leaped and balanced the ball on his helmet to make the 32-yard catch, setting up the winning score a few plays later.
Super Bowl XLIII: Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23
The Steelers watched a 13-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate as the Cardinals rallied behind Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald. But quarterback Ben Roethlisberger coolly led them down the field in the final minutes. With 42 seconds left, Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes, who tiptoed to stay inbounds, for the game-winning six-yard score.
Super Bowl XLIV: New Orleans Saints 31, Indianapolis Colts 17
Both the Saints’ Drew Brees and the Colts’ Peyton Manning put up big passing numbers. But Manning’s late attempt to tie the game was thwarted by New Orleans defensive back Tracy Porter. He anticipated a Manning throw, intercepted it and took it back 74 yards for the game-sealing score.
Super Bowl XLV: Green Bay Packers 31, Pittsburgh Steelers 25
The Steelers had cut an 18-point deficit to four and were in Green Bay territory looking for more at the start of the fourth quarter. But Packer linebackers forced a fumble by Steeler running back Rashard Mendenhall, and Green Bay recovered. The Packers would score on that possession to seal the victory.
Super Bowl XLVI: New York Giants 21, New England Patriots 17
Down two with under four minutes to go, the Giants were backed up on their own 12-yard line.
Super Bowl XLVII: Baltimore Ravens 34, San Francisco 49ers 31
The Ravens were up at 21-3 at half and received the second-half kickoff. Jacoby Jones decided to return the kick despite being eight yards deep in the end zone. 108 yards later, he was in the end zone, and the Ravens had padding they would need to stave off the Niners’ furious comeback.
Super Bowl XLVIII: Seattle Seahawks 43, Denver Broncos 8
The first play from scrimmage telegraphed what kind of game it was going to be from Denver. A shotgun snap sailed over Peyton Manning’s head, and the Broncos had to cover it up for a safety. Seattle’s defense tightened the grip from there, forcing four turnovers in the romp.
Super Bowl XLIX: New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24
The Seahawks were on the brink of a winning touchdown and back-to-back titles, sitting at the New England one-yard line with 26 seconds to go. Eschewing a handoff to bruising running back Marshawn Lynch, Seattle tried a quick slant pass. But Patriot cornerback Malcolm Butler saw it coming and stepped in from the interception to end it.
Super Bowl 50: Denver Broncos 24, Carolina Panthers 10
In a game where both offenses struggled, it was a first-quarter defensive play that made the difference. Panther quarterback Cam Newton was sacked by Denver’s Von Miller and fumbled. The Broncos’ Malik Jackson scooped it up at the Panther one-yard line and fell in for the tone-setting touchdown.
Super Bowl LI: New England Patriots 34, Atlanta Falcons 28
The greatest comeback in Super Bowl history was capped on the first possession of overtime. The Patriots, who had rallied from a 28-3 deficit to tie, won the coin flip and took the ball. After a 75-yard drive, James White ran for the score, his third of the game, to win it.
Super Bowl LII: Philadelphia Eagles 41, New England Patriots 33
In a wild, offensive slugfest, a one-yard pass might have made the difference.
It ended with tight end Trey Burton lofting a strike to quarterback Nick Foles for the crucial touchdown.
Super Bowl LIII: New England Patriots 13, Los Angeles Rams 3
The game oddsmakers predicted, via the over/under line, would be the highest-scoring game in Super Bowl history proved to be the lowest-scoring one of all. It was fitting then that a defensive play, Stephon Gilmore’s fourth-quarter interception of the Rams’ Nick Foles, made the biggest impact. That pick ended Los Angeles’ hopes of tying the game.
Super Bowl LIV: Kansas City Chiefs 31, San Francisco 49ers 20
The Chiefs vaunted offense was stuck in neutral for much of the game, and they faced a 20-10 deficit halfway through the third quarter. On a 3rd-and-15, Kansas City quarterback made an unlikely scrambling throw to Tyreek Hill for a 44-yard gain. Kansas City would score a touchdown on that drive and their next two to come from behind for the win.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our look at the best Super Bowl plays of all time. There are plenty of more Super Bowls to come, and we can’t wait to see what memorable plays will emerge from those games.