10 most pivotal Super Bowl plays
Since 2001, these plays have altered title outcomes more than any others
By William Cohen | ESPN Stats & Info
Most of us can recall the most memorable plays from the Super Bowl's of the recent past -- New York Giants receiver David Tyree pinning the ball against his helmet in 2008; Santonio Holmes snagging the game-winning touchdown for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009 -- but were those the most pivotal plays in terms of giving their teams a Super Bowl title?
As the excitement begins to build for next weekend's big game, we at ESPN Stats and Information have utilized our win probability tool to find the biggest plays for the past 11 Super Bowls. Our win probability model uses 10-plus years of play-by-play data and estimates a team's chances of winning the game, given any game situation, based on similar situations in the historical data. Usually, changes in win probability are subtle on a play-to-play basis, but there are certainly plays that swing the pendulum more than others. Here are the biggest plays from all Super Bowls since 2001.
Check out the top 10 plays with the largest win probability swings in the Super Bowl using this interactive Tableau visualization. Each play shows the eventual winner's change in win probability from before and after the play. Hover your mouse over any bar or point to see more information about each play.
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10. Super Bowl XLVI, New York Giants vs. New England Patriots
Situation: 1:04 left in 4th quarter, Giants' ball, trailing by 2
2nd-and-6 from Patriots' 6-yard line
Change in win probability: 23.0 percentage points
At this point in the game, the bulk of the Giants' comeback was complete. Down two at the 6-yard line, the Giants already had a 73.6 percent chance to win the game, but they needed a score to cap it off, and Ahmad Bradshaw's 6-yard touchdown run did it. Of note: Mario Manningham's iconic 38-yard catch that moved the Giants out of their own territory raised New York's win probability by 12.4 percentage points.
9. Super Bowl XLI, Indianapolis Colts vs. Chicago Bears
Situation: 11:59 left in 4th quarter, Bears' ball, trailing by 5
1st-and-10 from own 38-yard line
Change: 24.7 percentage points
Trailing by five early in the fourth quarter, the Bears still had about a 34 percent chance to make a comeback, but a Rex Grossman interception returned 56 yards for a touchdown by Kelvin Hayden made the score 29-17 and sealed the deal for the Colts, raising their win probability to 90.8 percent.
8. Super Bowl XXXVI, Patriots vs. St. Louis Rams
Situation: 8:58 left in 2nd quarter, Rams' ball, up 3
1st-and-10 from own 39-yard line
Change: 28.0 percentage points
Super Bowl XXXVI had two large single-play swings in win probability, both coming in the Patriots' favor. The first play put the Pats on the board when Ty Law picked off Kurt Warner and made a 47-yard return for a touchdown.
7. Super Bowl XXXVI, Patriots vs. Rams
Situation: 0:29 left in 4th quarter, Patriots' ball, tie score
2nd-and 10 from own 41-yard line
Change: 28.2 percentage points
Tom Brady and the Patriots got the ball back with 1:21 to play after the Rams tied the game with a 21-second touchdown drive. A 23-yard pass to Troy Brown put the Pats on the Rams' 36-yard line, leaving them with a 92.1 percent chance of winning. Adam Vinatieri made it happen just seconds later, hitting on a 48-yard game-winning field goal.
6. Super Bowl XLIII, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals
Situation: 1:02 left in fourth quarter, Steelers' ball, trailing by 3
2nd-and-6 from Cardinals' 46-yard line
Change: 33.9 percentage points
A staggering four plays from Super Bowl XLIII made the list. The first was a Ben Roethlisberger 40-yard pass to Santonio Holmes, which put the Steelers on the Cardinals' 6-yard line, trailing by three.
5. Super Bowl XLIII, Steelers vs. Cardinals
Situation: 0:42 left in 4th quarter, Steelers' ball, trailing by 3
2nd-and-6 from Cardinals' 6-yard line
Change: 34.6 percentage points
The previous play on the list set up one of the best catches in Super Bowl history -- a 6-yard acrobatic grab in the corner of the end zone by Holmes, which put the Steelers ahead by four with just 42 seconds remaining. In the span of three plays in 20 seconds, the Steelers' win probability jumped from 34.9 percent to 97.6 percent.
4. Super Bowl XXXVIII, Patriots vs. Carolina Panthers
Situation: 7:06 left in 4th quarter, Panthers' ball, trailing by 5
3rd-and-10 from own 15-yard line
Change: 36.1 percentage points
Trailing by five and needing a first down in order to avoid giving the ball back to New England with 7 minutes left in the game, Jake Delhomme hit Muhsin Muhammad wide open 50 yards downfield for what ended up as a 85-yard touchdown catch. The Patriots' win probability took a hit from 82.4 percent to 46.3 percent, but they would go on to win in dramatic fashion.
3. Super Bowl XLIII, Steelers vs. Cardinals
Situation: 2:47 left in 4th quarter, Cardinals' ball, trailing by 4
2nd-and-10 from own 36-yard-line
Change: 36.5 percentage points
More action from Super Bowl XLIII: needing a late touchdown to take the lead, Warner got just that with a 64-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald. But the Cardinals left Big Ben and the Steelers with too much time and a 31.2 percent chance to win.
2. Super Bowl XLIII, Steelers vs. Cardinals
Situation: 0:18 left in 2nd quarter, Cardinals' ball, trailing by 3
1st-and-goal from Steelers 1-yard line
Change: 46.0 percentage points
This is only the second play on the list not to come in the fourth quarter, but it's easy to see why. With a chance to go into the half up four points, Warner threw an interception from the Steelers' 1-yard line that was returned for a Super Bowl-record 100 yards by James Harrison. The Cardinals' win probability fell a massive 46 percentage points from 63 percent to 17 percent.
1. Super Bowl XLII, Giants vs. Patriots
Situation: 0:39 left in 4th quarter, Giants' ball, trailing by 4
1st-and-10 from Patriots 13-yard line
Change: 46.9 percentage points
The No. 1 play on this list is the play that stopped the Patriots from achieving a perfect season. Down four with no timeouts and needing a touchdown, Eli Manning delivered a 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress, giving the Giants their first Super Bowl win in 17 seasons. The magical helmet catch by David Tyree earlier in the drive didn't make the cut for the list, but it did increase the Giants' win probability by 21 percentage points. From that play through Burress' touchdown, the Giants' win probability rose from 25.0 percent to 92.5 percent.