Patriots

Healthy Hightower: 'There's no looking back now'

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Healthy Hightower: 'There's no looking back now'

FOXBORO -- Patriots rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower returned to game action on Sunday against the Jets, after missing the previous two games with a hamstring injury.

And he didn't miss a beat.

Hightower recorded a season-high seven tackles and a sack in New England's overtime win. It was just one of the signs that he was held back for two games as a "precaution."

"We waited it out," said Hightower before Thursday's practice. "I got treatment and felt a lot better. So, there's no looking back now. I'm doing everything I can to prevent a hamstring pull or anything like that again. I'm just doing everything I can to stay on the field."

So, just how do you go about preventing a hamstring injury?

"Keep stretching, stay hydrated, just a lot of things," said Hightower. "Make sure you're eating right, the weight thing. Just more or less, stretching more. I think that was probably my biggest problem. But I'm definitely taking care of that now."

And now that he feels healthy, Hightower knows his role on the field once he's done stretching.

"My role is to hit the dude with the ball," he said. "So that's what I'm doing. So, as long as I do that, and Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo aren't yelling at me, I feel like I'm doing my job."

Now almost midway through his first NFL season, Hightower realizes how important veterans like Wilfork and Mayo are around him on the field.

"Those guys have seen a lot and they've been through a lot," said Hightower. "It feels good to have an older guy that you can kind of talk to about certain things that you see and that you feel about, that other rookies can't really help you out because they haven't been here.

"So, having those two guys to fall back on, definitely makes my life a little bit easier. If there are certain concepts I don't understand, I can just talk to Mayo or Vince about it."

And while having veterans around him is nice, Hightower also finds pleasure in seeing fellow rookies making an impact.

"It just feels good to look over and see Chandler Jones and Alfonzo Dennard and Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner," said Hightower. "All those guys, we got drafted together, and we've been through OTA's together and all of the offseason workouts and all that stuff together. It feels good to see all that hard work and all that dedication that we put in, to see the young guys out on the field making plays and making an impact."

EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?

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EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?

On this episode of The Ex-Pats Podcast...

0:10 - Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen give their takeaways from the Patriots win over the Falcons including the defense coming up strong against Atlanta but New England still taking too many penalties.

2:00 - Why it felt like this game meant more to the Patriots, their sense of excitement after the win, and building chemistry off a good victory.

6:20 - Falcons losing their identity without Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator and their bad play calling and decisions on 4th downs.

10:00 -  A discussion about Matt Ryan not making the throws he needed against the Patriots and if he has falling off the MVP caliber-type player he was last season.

14:00 - How and why the Patriots secondary seems to be playing better without Stephon Gilmore and why Malcolm Butler has been able to turn up his play as of late.

Mother Nature gets between Belichick and his Patriots-Falcons film study

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Mother Nature gets between Belichick and his Patriots-Falcons film study

If your team makes a goal-line stop in the fourth quarter, but you can't see it on the All-22 tape, did it even happen? 

Bill Belichick said the fog that hovered above the Gillette Stadium turf on Sunday night didn't impact the play on the field, but it did make its imprint on the game in other ways. First of all, spotters and coaches up at the press level had some difficulty relaying information to coaches on the sidelines. Video on the hand-held tablets for sideline use -- as well as the old-school still-frame pictures Belichick prefers -- was also obstructed. 

Then on Monday, as coaches tried to digest the film, the fog butted in on the process again. 

"It affected us a lot this morning because it’s hard to see the game," Belichick said during a conference call. "The fourth quarter is – I don’t know – pretty close to a white-out on the sideline film. The sideline cameras are at the top of the stadium, so that’s a tough shot.

"The end zone cameras are a little bit lower and they get a little tighter shot, so the picture is a little bit clearer. But, on that shot, a lot of times you’re not able to see all the guys on the perimeter. It’s kind of an in-line shot.

"Yeah, the first half, start of the third quarter, it’s all right. As they get into the middle of the third quarter and on, for those of us with aging eyes, it’s a little strained to see it, and then there’s a point where you can’t really see it at all, especially from the sideline. So, yeah, it affected us."

Belichick re-iterated that the fog didn't do much to the product on the field (other than maybe making life difficult for kick and punt-returners), refuting Julio Jones' claim from late Sunday night. When it came to digesting the film, though, that was another story.

"It was more, I’d say, just tougher for, whether it be our video camera or the fans that were sitting in the upper deck. It’s just there was too much interference there," Belichick said. "It was probably hard to see the game. I know when we tried to look at the pictures in between series – you know, I don’t look at the tablets, so I won’t get into that – but the pictures, it was kind of the same thing. It was hard to really be able to make out exactly what you were seeing."