New England Patriots: 3 players that need to step up and play better

Outside linebacker Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Outside linebacker Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /
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New England Patriots
Dont’a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

No. 1: Dont’a Hightower

It’s certainly not fair to expect Dont’a Hightower to be able to take a year off from football as he did in 2020 and come back and be the same caliber of player he was early on in his career. Yet we are six games through the season now, and all we have seen is a shell of what Hightower was. He’s contributed just 23 tackles and two quarterback hits so far on the season, all while playing one of the most involved positions on the field.

Hightower’s lack of impact has been hard to miss this season. While Ja’Whaun Bentley has been doing everything in his power to stop the opposition, Hightower has usually been missing in the action. It was expected early on, but he’s coming off another game where he was a nonfactor again, logging only four tackles and one quarterback hit against Dallas.

Hightower has never really been a tackling machine throughout his career, but he’s always had a knack for the ball, and was typically one of New England’s most involved players on defense. Whether it was sniffing out runs and picking up a tackle for a loss, getting pressure on the quarterback, or dropping off in coverage, Hightower was always one of the best in the business in the middle of the field.

That simply hasn’t been the case this season, and maybe it should be expected. Hightower is 31 years old now and coming off a full missed season of action. Maybe he’s past his prime now, and his expectations may need to be adjusted accordingly.

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But it’s clear this team is going to need Hightower to step up down the stretch if they want to win more games. On Sunday, the Hightower of old would have been able to step up with a timely sack of Dak Prescott when needed, but he wasn’t able to muster anything of that sort this time around. Hightower needs to step up and prove he’s the leader that this defense has relied upon for the past 10 years now. Otherwise, he may not have a spot in the lineup for much longer.