Patriots

Hightower: 'We gotta hold each other to a higher standard...that starts today'

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Hightower: 'We gotta hold each other to a higher standard...that starts today'

FOXBORO -- It wasn't enjoyable. There weren't a lot of laughs. But it was productive, players said.

On Monday at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots dissected the film of their 33-30 loss to the Panthers and went over the corrections they'll need to make before seeing the Buccaneers on Thursday night.

While the big-play mistakes were part of the focus, Dont'a Hightower explained that there were plenty of smaller miscues that need to be cleaned up that might help limit back-breaking snaps down the line.

"That’s where it starts," he said. "The small things matter. The big plays and all that stuff, obviously, it’s easy for guys to see that. But it’s the small things that happen -- getting that little bit extra pressure on the quarterback, that extra knock back on the line of scrimmage, that extra knock back on the center or the quick jam at the line of scrimmage. 

"All the little things matter right now and I think what we need to do and what we’re going to start doing is going at that. Don’t take things for granted, you know? Appreciate every little thing and be knowledgable of each small detail. I think we’ll start from there and see where it goes."

Hightower played in 37 of 63 defensive snaps, most of them on the edge, and he recorded a fourth-quarter sack that gave the Patriots an opportunity to make their game-tying drive in the waning minutes. Though he felt as though he played a game the day prior, it was a performance for him to build on moving forward. 

Now it's just a matter of helping the defense get things cleaned up. Whether he's on the edge or in the middle of the defense, he considers himself a communicator who will speak up when necessary regardless of the situation.

"It’s just accountability," Hightower said. "That’s something that I myself as well as the other 10 guys, 11, 12 guys, whoever's out there, it's on them to do. It's on all of us. We gotta hold each other to a higher standard . . . That starts today. We had a so far productive meeting. We’re about to handle a couple more things. We know where we have to be at and what we gotta do.

"The time's now. There's no more next week or any other [expletive]. We gotta get going.” 

Asked if the Patriots defense will turn things around, Hightower said, "Absolutely." They have one more full day of work ahead of them to get going in the right direction before taking off for Tampa Bay on Wednesday.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

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QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.