FOXBORO -- Dont'a Hightower looked like Dont'a Hightower on Sunday.
He didn’t love hearing that. The inference that he was “less than” seemed to him an insinuation he was giving less than everything.
But back in the middle of the Patriots defense, directing, diagnosing and delivering, Hightower had a major impact on the Patriots' 38-7 stifling of the previously unbeaten Dolphins.
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Last week in Detroit, rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley had the “green dot” on his helmet, meaning he was the on-field communicator of the calls from the sideline. Hightower, who played both on the edge and at linebacker in the first two games, had a poor game. On two plays in particular – a pass to the flat to Kerryon Johnson and a burst up the middle by Johnson – Hightower didn’t deliver the kind of work he’s been known for since 2012.
This week, with Bentley on IR, Hightower was almost exclusively at linebacker. Further, he had the dot and played the pre-snap traffic cop, getting people where they should.
Coincidence that the Patriots smothered a Dolphins offense that had its way in the first three games? Probably not.
Hightower announced himself on the Dolphins second drive with a run stuff on Kenyan Drake followed by a pressure of Ryan Tannehill on a pass that sailed incomplete. A penalty wiped out the incompletion, but that pressure was soon followed by a slew of pressure from elsewhere, especially Kyle Van Noy, who also had his best game of the season from the linebacker spot.
Hightower didn’t stick around the locker room after the game. I caught him briefly outside and asked him about the past week.
PATRIOTS 38, DOLPHINS 7
“It’s cool,” he said of criticism of his play. “I’m coming out every week dedicated and devoted to what I have to do to for my team. All the outside stuff don’t really matter to me whether it’s ESPN or NBC or wherever else. Anybody can say whatever they want to as long as my teammates know I’m giving 110 percent that’s all that matters to me.”
During the runup to the Dolphins, Hightower and key members of the defense met in the locker room to further go over the plan for the week. It was unusual to see and Phil Perry wrote about it.
Asked about the confab on Thursday, Hightower said, “It's good to kind of see what perceptions are going throughout. Why we're doing this. A lot of times it will help guys maybe see things or play things a lot quicker, knowing what to expect and kind of what everybody else sees. Any time all 11 guys can be on the same page and see the same things at the same time, guys can play and react a little quicker. Any time you can have that dialogue, not only with the coaches but amongst yourselves, you can kind of know what we're expecting being on the field together. It helps."
The swirl of negativity after consecutive losses was something Hightower knew had to be blocked out. That’s what happens when you lose.
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“I think a lot of the older guys that were here for (hard times) were trying to get the vibe that (it would be fine) and guys bought into that,” he said. “It showed in the execution. We knew that our destiny was in our hands. We know it’s early but we know that shit adds up if you keep playing bad ball and you don’t want to be caught behind the eight-ball in the division. We needed to turn things around and this week we had a great week of practice.”
Hightower didn’t think he was unfairly maligned. He wasn’t completely sure he’d been maligned at all.
“At the end of the day, I’m not googling things but I can tell by the questions like, ‘When are we going to see the Hightower from the Super Bowl?’ “ he explained. “It doesn’t bother me. But I don’t need people bashing me and then next game come back and say, ‘That’s more like it.’ I’m going to do what I can and that should never be questioned.”