NFL

Most Productive Plays in NFL Super Bowl History

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Thanks to everyone for the nominations. And thanks go to Anonymous and Hawerchuk for the link to the Super Bowl play-by-plays.

Let's go in chronological order.

Super Bowl 5.  Dallas vs. Baltimore. Baltimore intercepted a Dallas pass with the score tied 13-13 with 1 minute left in the game and return s the ball to the Dallas 13. Baltimore went on to kick a FG to win. The interception took the colts from a 0.63 WP to a 0.91 WP, for a 0.28 WPA.

Super Bowl 23. San Francisco vs. Cincinnati. With 1:17 left in the game, Joe Montana threw a 27-yard pass to Jerry Rice on 2nd and 20 from the CIN 47. SF went from a 0.37 WP to a 0.66 WP for a 0.29 WPA.

Super Bowl 25. Buffalo vs. New York Giants. Down 20-19, Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard FG attempt to end the game. 47-yard FG's are made 67% of the time, taking the Bills from a 0.67 WP to a 0 WP for a -0.67 WPA.

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Super Bowl 34. Tennessee vs. St. Louis. Down 23-16, with 6 seconds remaining, Steve McNair threw to Kevin Dyson who was tackled just short of the potentially tying TD to end the game, taking the Titans from a 0.37 WP to zero for a -0.37 WPA.

Super Bowl 36. New England vs. St. Louis. Down 3-0 in the 2nd quarter, Ty Law intercepted a Kurt Warner pass and returned it for a touchdown. The Patriots went from a 0.33 WP to a 0.59 WP for a 0.26 WPA.

At the end of that same game, Adam Vinitieri made a game winning 47-yd FG as time expired. Before the kick NE had a 0.83 WP, and after they had a 1.00 WP, for a 0.17 WPA. Keep in mind that even if he had missed the game would still be tied at 17.

Super Bowl 38. New England vs. Carolina. This game was truly an exciting 4th quarter shootout, and there were several plays that moved the needle by a fair amount. Trailing 22-21 with 4:28 in the 4th qtr, Tom Brady connected with David Givens for a 25-yd pass to the CAR 28 yd line. That took NE from a 0.50 WP to a 0.73 WP for a 0.23 WPA.

Later on the same drive, with 3:30 left in the game, on 3rd and 9 Brady again threw to Givens for 18 yards to the CAR 3. This took NE from a 0.63 WP to a 0.88 WP for a 0.25 WPA.

Down 28-22 with just under 2 minutes left, Jake Delhomme hit Ricky Proehl on a 1st and 10 play for a 31 yard gain to the NE 14. This took CAR from a 0.19 WP to a 0.38 WP for a 0.19 WPA.

Delhomme then hit Proehl again for a 12-yd TD pass on 3rd and 8 to take the lead. This play took CAR from a 0.13 WP to a 0.39 WP for a 0.26 WPA. (Notice that even with the lead, CAR would not be favored to win. It's just too easy for a team to get a quick FG with well over a minute remaining. Also, I suspect the 0.13 WP number is a bit low. CAR would have definitely gone for it on 4th down if necessary, which gave them 2 bites at the apple.)

After the TD, CAR kicker John Kasay booted the kickoff out of bounds, giving NE excellent field position for their game-winning drive. A typical kickoff would give NE a 0.60 WP, but the penalty for kicking out of bounds gave NE a 0.67 WP, for a 0.07 WPA. Not much compared to some of the other plays, but still notable.

Vinitieri again kicked the game winning FG with only seconds left, this time from 41 yards. Before the kick NE had a 0.88 WP, and after the kick it was 0.99, for a 0.11 WPA. Just like against the Rams, a miss would only mean a tie.

Super Bowl 40. Pittsburgh vs. Seattle. Leading 14-10 with about 9 minutes to go in the game, PIT called a trick play on 1st and 10 from the SEA 43. A reverse hand off/WR pass from Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward gave PIT an 11-point lead. The play took PIT from a 0.89 WP to a 0.98 WPA for a 0.09 WPA.

Super Bowl 42. NY Giants vs. New England. On the famous go-ahead drive, Brandon Jacobs converted a 4th and 1 from the NYG 37 for a 0.21 WPA. The spectacular Manning-to-Tyree play was on 3rd and 5 from the NYG 44. It gave NYG a 1st down on the NE 25 for a 0.22 WPA. The TD pass to Plaxico Burress was actually the biggest play of the drive in terms of WP, worth 0.41 WPA.

Super Bowl 45. Pittsburgh vs. Arizona. Another barn-burner. Down 10-7 with 18 seconds left in the first half, ARI was poised to take the lead with a 1st and goal from the PIT 1. Instead, James Harrison intercepted a Kurt Warner pass and returned the ball 99 yards for a TD. Before the play ARI had a 0.57 WP, but after the play it dropped to 0.20 WP, for a -0.37 WPA.

In the 4th qtr, ARI trailed 20-16. With 2:53 left in the game on 2nd and 10 from the ARI 26, Warner hit Larry Fitzgerald for a 60-yard TD pass to take the lead. This took ARI's WP from 0.24 to 0.79 for a 0.54 WPA. Too bad this play won't be remembered. It was eclipsed by PIT's subsequent drive.

With 1:02 left, PIT faced a 2nd and 6 from their own 46. Ben Roethlisberger threw to Santonio Holmes for a 40-yard gain, taking PIT's WP from 0.24 to 0.74 for a 0.50 WPA.

Then with 42 seconds left, Roethlisberger hit Holmes again, this time on 2nd and goal for a 6-yard TD pass that took the lead for good. This play took PIT's WP from 0.58 to 0.96 for a 0.38 WPA.

Super Bowl 43. New Orleans vs. Indianapolis. The Tracy Porter interception return for a TD with 3:24 left in the game give NO a permanent 14-point lead took them from a 0.77 WP to a 0.98 WP, for a 0.21 WPA.

The Bills' missed FG in Super Bowl 25 vs. the Giants turns out to be the most decisive play in Super Bowl history with a -0.67 WPA. But Super Bowl 38 and 42 were the two most exciting games, each with multiple lead changes last in the game.

Martin made a great point in his comment on the previous post: What if Eli Manning had been sacked and the throw to Tyree never happened? Had Manning been sacked, it would have brought up a 4th down and 12 from the NYG 37 with about 1 minute remaining. NYG would have gone for it, which would put them at 0.07 WP. The successful Tyree catch put NYG at 0.46 WP. So if you look at the difference between the virtually certain sack and the actual outcome, the WPA could be considered as high as 0.39. It's much higher than the 0.22 WPA between the snap and whistle, but still short of the WPA of some of the other big Super Bowl plays.

One thing I learned doing this exercise is that we've been lucky as fans. The last  decade or so has truly been the era of the exciting Super Bowl.