Patriots linebacker Hightower to miss rest of season

New England Patriots middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower during an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough Mass. Sunday Oct. 1 2017

Hightower has been a key piece of the Patriots defense for years and one of his longtime teammates said he knows it is "very frustrating" for the linebacker to deal with this injury.

Through seven weeks, the Patriots are last in total defense by yards per game (426.7).

As unsightly as those numbers are, the worst may still be on the horizon.

New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower will miss the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral muscle, multiple outlets reported on Thursday. He played in a part-time role after his return in Week 4.

Dont'a Hightower's loss is a big one. He remained down for a moment after the play but managed to play the next snap before exiting the game. It's a disappointing result for the Patriots, especially considering all the money they owe him. Despite shopping himself around the free agency market, Hightower returned to New England for $35 million and four years. If he does indeed miss Sunday's game, Hightower would likely be replaced at middle linebacker David Harris.

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But while the Patriots have a plan, that doesn't mean Hightower's absence won't be felt. Rowe will miss his fourth consecutive game Sunday against the Chargers.

Still, the Patriots don't seem particularly anxious.

"He's a huge part of what we do", safety Devin McCourty said. "Now we're slowly figuring out how to play with each other and getting better and better each week".

Defensive ends Cassius Marsh and Adam Butler should see increased playing time moving forward, and New England could look to acquire reinforcements ahead of Tuesday's National Football League trade deadline.

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