What Is the NFL Record for Most Sacks in a Game by 1 Player?

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NFL Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas sacking Troy Aikmen

For an NFL defensive player, one of the most devastating and effective plays is the sack. It shows the defense's ability to shut down all receivers and stop the quarterback from throwing the ball downfield. But it hasn't always been a recorded statistic. Let's take a closer look at the history of the sack, who holds the single-season and career records, and finally, the player who has recorded the most sacks in a single game.

When did the NFL begin tracking sacks?

In the NFL's earlier years, it didn't keep track of sacks as a stat. The league didn't view it as different from any other tackle. One player changed the way everyone looked at tackles of the quarterback, however: Deacon Jones.

“David “Deacon” Jones was a revolutionary pass-rusher for the Rams, a 6-foot-5 mercenary whose signature move — a ringing blow to the helmet of an offensive lineman that came to be known as a head slap — was straight out of the Three Stooges playbook...

Sometime in the 1960s, the legend goes, Jones began referring to brutal takedowns of signal-callers in the offensive backfield as “sacks.” At the time, there was no statistical category for such a craven act, and the National Football League saw no need to add such a statistic.”

The NFL began tracking sacks in 1982, giving NFL defenses one more statistic to record. Several players, such as Al “Bubba” Baker and Coy Bacon, were skilled at sacking the quarterback but never received the recognition of players like Jones.

By some accounts, Bacon had 26 sacks during the 1976 season — though that number is in dispute due to arguments over what actually constituted a sack at the time. 

Who has the most career and single-season sack totals?

The NFL record for sacks in a season belongs to Michael Strahan, formerly of the New York Giants. Strahan achieved the record of 22.5 sacks in 2001. Strahan's sack record has been called in to question due to the fact that Packers' quarterback Brett Favre intentionally went down, essentially gifting him the record.

Favre drew criticism for essentially gifting a record to another player, even though Strahan had played well enough to earn it and had seen increased coverage from the Packers' blockers during the game to ensure he didn't receive the record prior to that. 

The record for career sacks belongs to pass rusher Bruce Smith, formerly of the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins. Smith recorded 200 sacks during his illustrious career. Rounding out the top five are Reggie White with 198, Kevin Greene with 160, Julius Peppers with 159.5, and Chris Doleman with 150.5.

What is the most sacks in a single NFL game by a player?

NFL Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas sacking Troy Aikmen
Derrick Thomas sacking Troy Aikmen | DAVID KAUP/AFP via Getty Images

The record for most sacks in a single game by one player belongs to Derrick Thomas, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs. Thomas achieved the record on November 11, 1990 against the Seattle Seahawks. The Chiefs sacked Seahawks quarterback Dave Krieg nine times on the day, with Thomas being responsible for seven of those sacks. 

Thomas was one of the best linebackers of his era. He played 11 seasons with Kansas City finishing his career with 126.5 sacks and 642 combined tackles. He was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time All-Pro.

Thomas has been enshrined in Canton as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, inducted in 2009. Sadly, Thomas passed away at the age of 33, suffering a pulmonary embolism in the hospital after being paralyzed from a car crash. 

It's hard to say if any player will ever equal Thomas's total, but it's doubtful. Several players have achieved six. In today's game of constant adjustments, it's hard to believe offensive coordinators would allow a pass rusher to go unchecked to the point of achieving seven sacks.