Bears blocker 'embarrassed' by Hightower bull-rush, punt-block

Bears blocker 'embarrassed' by Hightower bull-rush, punt-block

CHICAGO -- Dont'a Hightower had never been on the punt-block team before this week. Of course he'd never blocked a punt in his life. 

With the Patriots and Bears tied, 24-24, in the third quarter he picked a good time for his first time. 

Plowing over Ben Braunecker at the line of scrimmage, Hightower found himself barreling toward Pat O'Donnell. He blocked O'Donnell's kick and almost recovered it as he was falling to the turf. The thing came loose, Kyle Van Noy arrived to scoop and -- after some difficulty scooping -- score. 

"Just lined up, bulled the B-gap, was able to get him on his heels," Hightower said of Braunecker. "I had him on his heels, locked out and kept moving . . . 

"I honestly didn't know what to do. I've never blocked a punt before so I just knew that if I got there before he punted it I could hit him."

He did. And then he nearly hit his teammate. When Van Noy didn't scoop the ball cleanly, Hightower -- who had popped to his feet to get in the area of the loose football -- almost took matters into his own hands. 

"I almost pushed him to the ground," Hightower said. "He was taking too long. In my head, I'm like, 'They're coming! They're coming! And you're taking too long!' So I [almost] pushed him down or whatever, but it was a great play. Whenever you can make plays like that, especially on special teams, it's big."


Braunecker took the blame for the game-changing play afterward.

"It’s really unacceptable," he said, according to Adam Hoge of WGN, "and frankly, I’m really embarrassed about it."

Braunecker added: “You have to be dialed in against a team like that, that’s so well disciplined and well coached. Special teams errors just in general are inexcusable, but those especially, against that competition.”

The Patriots made special teams errors of their own -- including a Cordarrelle Patterson fumble and a punt return that bounced off of Julian Edelman's face mask -- but were able to leave town with their first road win of the season. 

Still, despite Hightower's big play and Patterson's 95-yard return for a touchdown, there's plenty for the Patriots to clean up in the kicking game. 

"Can be better still," Matthew Slater said. "I think we left our mark on the game today. But we can still be better."

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2020 NFL Pro Bowl live stream: Watch Skills Showdown online

2020 NFL Pro Bowl live stream: Watch Skills Showdown online

New England Patriots fans haven't had much reason to watch the NFL Pro Bowl in recent seasons, but 2020 is different.

Patriots players haven't participated in the Pro Bowl in each of the last three years because they were playing in the Super Bowl and thus not allowed to take part in the league's version of an All-Star Game.

The Patriots were eliminated from the AFC playoffs on Wild Card Weekend, giving the team's three Pro Bowl selections (cornerback Stephon Gilmore, linebacker Dont'a Hightower and special teams ace Matthew Slater) the opportunity to participate in this season's game. Hightower was ruled out due to injury, but Gilmore and Slater are expected to play.

Gilmore also will feature in Thursday night's 2020 Pro Bowl Skills Showdown. The event is basically football's version of NBA Saturday night, which includes the Skills Challenge, the Slam Dunk Contest and 3-Point Shootout.

Here's the information you need to watch Gilmore compete in the Pro Bowl Skills Showdown.

When: Thursday, Jan. 23 at 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live stream: WatchESPN

Gilmore reveals his Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl prediction

Could this former Patriots receiver's son be the next Patriots receiver?

Could this former Patriots receiver's son be the next Patriots receiver?

One way to get a feel for just how long Bill Belichick has been head coach in New England? Players who were kicking around the league in the early portion of Belichick's Patriots tenure have children Belichick has the opportunity to draft in April. 

Last week we touched on the fact that Randy Moss has a son entering the NFL Draft as a tight end out of LSU. Thaddeus Moss could end up being a mid-to-late round option for a team in need of a tight end. 

This week? Another former Patriots receiver has a son who's putting on a show in Mobile, Ala. for this week's Senior Bowl. 

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Belichick never had a chance to coach Shawn Jefferson. The longtime NFL wideout with over 7,000 career receiving yards left the Patriots via free agency for the Falcons after four years in New England.

His first year with Atlanta, 2000, was Belichick's first as head coach of the Patriots. (The two did overlap in Foxboro in 1996, when Belichick coached defensive backs under Bill Parcells.)

But might Jefferson's son end up a Patriots draft target?

Van Jefferson, from the University of Florida, has been one of the most impressive performers at his position at this year's Senior Bowl. The week's practices — thoroughly covered and broadcast by NFL Media these days — has allowed Jefferson to put his nuanced skills on display against some of the best defensive backs in the country. 

After a strong showing on Tuesday in the week's first practice, Jefferson was one of the best pass-catchers on the field again Wednesday.

Despite lacking the athleticism of some of the others at his position who will be considered first-rounders this year — it's thought to be an incredibly deep class at receiver — Jefferson has made plays this week both down the field and at the intermediate level by understanding leverage and making contested catches.

"He is a route technician on a level that has the corners tripping over themselves," The Athletic's Dane Brugler wrote this week. "And it is tough to blame them because they haven’t faced many players at the college level with Jefferson’s detailed patterns. Instead of pure speed, he relies on pace, tempo and purpose, making every step matter and tying defenders in knots."

Jefferson spent three years at Ole Miss before transferring to Florida. The 6-foot-1, 197-pounder finished his collegiate career with 2,159 yards and 16 touchdowns. He caught 49 passes for 657 yards and six scores in his final season.

Belichick and his coaching staff are in Mobile for college football's premier postseason all-star game. Perhaps what they see from the Florida wideout with some Patriots connections will push them to consider him on draft weekend to bolster a receiving corps that needed all the help it could get this season.

Or not. Jefferson's father is currently assistant head coach and receivers coach for the Jets.