Patriots linebaker Dont’a Hightower out for the season

New England Patriots

One of the NFL’s worst defenses has taken a big hit, with Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower out for the season.

The New England Patriots are coming off the best defensive performance of the season in Week 7, as they held the Atlanta Falcons to seven points and 343 total yards. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower was though to be facing a multi-week absence with a shoulder injury suffered in the game, but Ian Rapoport of NFL Network has updated with the dire news that Hightower will miss the rest of the season with a torn pectoral.

The Patriots are last in the league in total defense (426.7 yards per game). They’ve been equally bad against the pass (last in the league; 310.3 yards per game), and only marginally better against the run (116.4 yards per game; 22nd in the league). Hightower’s absence removes a good player, a leader and the New England’s defensive signal caller all in one swoop.

The Patriots signed David Harris after he was cut by the Jets in June, but the veteran linebacker has only been active for four of the first seven games this season. After playing a season-high 19 snaps against the Falcons, Harris seems sure to step into the starting role vacated by Hightower. He’s not what he once was, at 33 years old now, but Harris remained a productive player with he Jets last year (94 total tackles) and he has six seasons with over 100 total tackles in his career.

As for Hightower, his injury history limited his free agent market last offseason and he wound up back with the Patriots on a four-year, $35.5 million deal. Albert Breer of The MMQB has offered some insight about Hightower’s pectoral injury.

Hightower has played all 16 games just once in six NFL seasons now. There’s no doubt about his talent, but that lack of availability is sure to draw Bill Belichick’s ire if it keeps up down the road.

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