Dre Greenlaw Cracks Top 5 of All-Time Playoff Performances by Defensive Pro Hogs

Greenlaw joins Hampton, Atwater, Flowers and other defensive standouts.

Dre Greenlaw, Steve Atwater, Arkansas football, Pro Hogs
photo credit: Twitter/@49ers / Denver Broncos

Arkansas football fans watching the two NFC Divisional Round games over the weekend were treated to a pair of former Razorbacks delivering on the biggest stage.

Frank Ragnow was a key player in the Lions taking down the Buccaneers, but before that, Dre Greenlaw had maybe the best defensive performance of the playoffs by intercepting two passes in the 49ers tight win over the Packers.

That performance got Best of Arkansas Sports thinking about the best ever defensive showings by Pro Hogs in the playoffs. Here’s our top 10 list…

10. Raylee Johnson — 1994 — Super Bowl XXIX

One of only two losing efforts on our list, Raylee Johnson helped the Chargers reach their first and only Super Bowl in the 1994 playoffs. He was a backup defensive end primarily used in pass rushing situations for San Diego and those skills helped him sack Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young twice in Super Bowl XXIX. However, Johnson was part of a defense that gave up seven touchdowns in a 49-26 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, which is why he’s at the bottom of the list.

9. Ravin Caldwell — 1987 — NFC Championship

Another backup who delivered on the big stage, Ravin Caldwell played a major role in helping Washington reach Super Bowl XXII. That game was a 42-10 blowout win over the Broncos, but getting there proved to be tougher. The Redskins implemented a special defensive package in the NFC Championship that used him as an extra pass rusher and Caldwell came up with one of the eight sacks of quarterback Wade Wilson. That was a key to Washington coming away with a 17-10 win.

8. David Barrett — 2004 — Divisional Round

Heading into the AFC Divisional Round matchup against the Steelers, David Barrett made some bold statements about Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress, saying the Jets could take him out of the game by hitting him at the line. In his response, Burress referred to him as “Barnett.”

Even though it came in a losing effort, Barrett backed up his smack talk, limiting Burress to only two catches for 28 yards on seven targets. He finished with four tackles and two pass breakups, plus nearly helped New York pull off the upset by intercepting a pass and returning it into Pittsburgh territory in the closing minutes. However, the Jets missed the potential game-winning field goal and ultimately lost in overtime.

7. Dan Hampton — 1985 — NFC Championship

During his Hall of Fame career, Dan Hampton followed up clutch performances for Arkansas football with several noteworthy playoff performances for the Chicago Bears. He’s probably best remembered for being part of the 1985 team that won the Super Bowl with a legendary defense.

Having moved from defensive tackle to defensive end midway through the season, Hampton notched a sack and recovered a fumble in Super Bowl XX. That was overshadowed, though, by the MVP performance of Richard Dent in the 46-10 shellacking of the New England Patriots. He was even better two weeks earlier in the NFC Championship, racking up four tackles and one sack while also forcing a fumble in a shutout of the Los Angeles Rams.

6. Steve Atwater — 1991 — Divisional Round

In his third season as a professional, Steve Atwater earned first-team AP All-Pro accolades for the first time. He lived up to that recognition in the postseason when he played a crucial role in helping the Broncos beat the Oilers 26-24 in the Divisional Round following the 1991 season.

After seeing one interception of Warren Moon called back by penalty, Atwater came down with one that counted in the second quarter that Denver turned into a touchdown just before halftime — a critical play in what was a two-point win.

5. Dennis “Dirt” Winston — 1979 — Super Bowl XIV

As a backup linebacker, Dirt Winston made three tackles and recovered a fumble in Pittsburgh’s 35-17 win over the Cowboys in Super Bowl XIV. He managed to come away with the ball despite jumping on the scrum late and the turnover immediately led to Pittsburgh’s final touchdown, which proved to be the difference.

That likely would have warranted inclusion on this list, but Winston had an even bigger performance the following year in Super Bowl XIV. With Hall of Fame teammate Jack Ham injured, he filled in as a starter in the playoffs. In the Super Bowl, Winston was in on 10 tackles as Pittsburgh beat the Los Angeles Rams 31-19.

4. Dre Greenlaw — 2023 — Divisional Round

He earned the nickname while at Fayetteville High School, but “Big Play Dre” has stuck with Dre Greenlaw throughout his time starring for Arkansas football and is still accurate even in the NFL. As a rookie, he made a tackle at the goal line to give San Francisco a division title and No. 1 seed. Now firmly entrenched as a starter on one of the best defenses in the NFL, Greenlaw helped the 49ers avoid an upset loss to Green Bay in the Divisional Round.

Early in the game, he helped stuff the Packers on a fourth-and-1 play in the red zone. The turnover on downs sparked San Francisco’s offense, which responded with a long touchdown drive to take a 7-3 lead — instead of falling behind 10-0 or 6-0. Greenlaw’s team-high eight tackles also included stopping Aaron Jones two yards behind the line of scrimmage for a TFL.

However, the plays that made this the fourth-best defensive performance by a former Arkansas football player in the playoffs came in the second half. First, Greenlaw picked off Jordan Love near midfield late in the third quarter and the 49ers turned it into a field goal that pulled them within 21-17. After San Francisco took the lead with 1:07 remaining, Greenlaw once again intercepted Love to end the Packers’ final drive and send the 49ers to the NFC Championship.

3. Dan Hampton — 1984 — Divisional Round

As a rookie, Dan Hampton notched two sacks in his first career playoff game, but that was in a 10-point loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. When he returned to the playoffs five years later, he replicated that performance, but had a much better result.

Hampton’s two sacks were the highlight of a 23-19 upset win over the Washington Redskins in the Divisional Round. Washington was known for its offensive prowess with the three-headed monster of Joe Theismann, John Riggins and Art Monk, not to mention “The Hogs” up front on the offensive line.

Hampton was part of a defensive line that held Washington under 100 total rushing yards and Riggins to only 50 yards on 21 carries, with no run longer than 8 yards. It was Chicago’s first playoff win in more than two decades and set the stage for their historic 1985 season a year later.

2. Trey Flowers — 2016 — Super Bowl LI

Most fans remember Super Bowl LI for the Falcons’ historic collapse and Tom Brady winning his fifth ring, but Trey Flowers also turned in a huge performance for the Patriots’ defense. Not only did he tally 2.5 sacks and six tackles overall, but Flowers also landed  five quarterback hits, as he was consistently in the backfield and getting after quarterback Matt Ryan.

1. Steve Atwater — 1997 — Super Bowl XXXII

It took longer than it likely should have, but Steve Atwater was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020. One reason he made it was because of his knack for delivering in big moments, like he did in the playoff game that landed at No. 6 on this list.

The former Arkansas football standout probably could have been on this list three times for his performance in Super Bowl XXXIII, but nothing could top what he did a year earlier in Super Bowl XXXII. In the tight win over the Packers, Atwater had a strip sack of Brett Favre that led to a field goal to put the Broncos up by two scores and also broke up a pass on third-and-8 to force a punt when Green Bay was driving to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Had he hung on to an interception earlier in the game, Atwater might have been the MVP of the game.

Perhaps the thing fans remember most from that performance was his huge hit with 32 seconds remaining that knocked out himself, a teammate and a Green Bay receiver. It was a perfect encapsulation on the way he played in an era that encouraged such hits.

ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter, who covered the Broncos at the time, later called it “the finest game that any safety in any Super Bowl ever has played.” That’s a pretty lofty claim, which made this an easy selection for No. 1 on our list.

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