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Tracking Big Plays In The Big Game

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Jacoby Jones logged one of the big plays in last year's Super Bowl. Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images.
Jacoby Jones logged one of the big plays in last year's Super Bowl. Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images.

One of the reasons last year’s Super Bowl was so exciting was the “big plays” that happened during the game. (Let’s define a “big play” as a play from scrimmage that went for 20 or more yards.) There were 14 big plays in the game, which was the second most in Super Bowl history, and there were at least three in every quarter. The Ravens had five big plays in the game and the 49ers had nine.

(For the record, Super Bowl XXII, Washington vs. Denver, had the most plays of 20-plus yards from scrimmage with 17. The Redskins had 10 big plays in that contest, the most by one team in a Super Bowl.)

At the other end of the spectrum, when the New York Giants upset the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, the Giants accomplished something that only two teams had previously done in Super Bowl history: They did not allow the Patriots to have a play of 20 or more yards from scrimmage. The only other teams to accomplish that feat were the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VII and the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX.

With "big plays" from scrimmage as the focus (again, we'll define a "big play" as a play from scrimmage for 20 or more yards), here's a look at how "big plays" have played an important role in the previous 47 Super Bowls. For the record, there have been 334 "big plays" from scrimmage in the previous 47 Super Bowls (an average of just over seven "big plays" per game).

* Of the 334 big plays in the Super Bowl, 184 (55.1%) were by the team that won the game. In 25 of the 47 games, the eventual Super Bowl winner had more big plays than their opponent; in nine of the games, the teams had the same number of big plays. Teams that allowed no big plays or only one in the Super Bowl have won nine and lost only once. Teams that allowed two or fewer plays of 20 yards or more from scrimmage are 18-10 in the Super Bowl.

* Of the 334 big plays, 99 (29.6%) happened in the fourth quarter. Fifty-five of those 99 were by the team that lost the game (making big plays to get back in the game?)

* In 33 of the 47 Super Bowls, the team that won also had the longest play from scrimmage in the game. The Ravens had the big play in the last Super Bowl, a 56-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones.

* Of the 334 big plays, 85 of them happened on either third or fourth down. Of those 85, the team that won the game had a big play on third or fourth down 54 times. In the 35 of the 47 Super Bowls, the winning team had at least one play of 20 yards or more from scrimmage on a third down. Losing teams only had a play of 20 yards or more from scrimmage on a third or fourth down in 20 of the 47 games.

* Of the 334 big plays, 64 went for touchdowns. Of those 64, 42 of them were scored by the team that won the game.

Here’s a quick look at the QBs, running backs and receivers that had the most big plays in Super Bowl history.

Quarterbacks, Super Bowl big plays (passes of 20-plus yards)

Terry Bradshaw, 18

Joe Montana, 17

John Elway, 16

Kurt Warner, 15

Troy Aikman, 11

Roger Staubach, 10

Running Backs, Super Bowl big plays (runs of 20-plus yards)

Timmy Smith, 3

Franco Harris, 3

Marcus Allen, 2

Emmitt Smith, 2

Clarence Davis, 2

Frank Gore, 2

Thurman Thomas, 2

Michael Pittman, 2

Receivers, Super Bowl big plays (receptions of 20-plus yards)

Jerry Rice, 12

Lynn Swann, 7

John Stallworth, 5

Andre Reed, 5

Michael Irvin, 5