You won't find a football fan in New England who's not excited for the Week 4 game between the Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 2021 NFL season.
The much-anticipated return of Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady to Gillette Stadium -- where he helped lead the Patriots to six Super Bowl titles in 20 years -- likely will be the most hyped regular season game in Boston sports history.
The fans aren't the only people excited for this showdown. You can bet the players are, too, and that includes Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower.
“It’s going to be good to see 12 again,” Hightower told Stan Grossfeld of The Boston Globe. “I’ve been going against him in practice for so long, I’m looking forward to playing against him.”
Hightower, as you would expect, isn't going to take it easy on Brady if given the opportunity to sack or knock down the former Patriots quarterback.
“Oh, you mean, like, ‘soft sacking’ him?” Hightower said, per Grossfeld. “Nah, you can’t do none of that stuff with him, man. He’s trying to throw touchdowns. No, in between the lines, it’s football. I’m sure he wouldn’t expect anything different.”
Hightower's return to the Patriots after opting out of last season amid the COVID-19 pandemic is a massive boost to the Patriots defense.
New England has been busy all offseason upgrading its defense after a disappointing 2020 campaign during which the team saw its 11-year postseason appearance streak end with a 7-9 record.
Brady's Buccaneers will be among the Patriots defense's toughest challenges this season. The 43-year-old quarterback threw 40 touchdown passes in 2020 and led the Bucs to a Super Bowl LV triumph over Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Luckily for the Patriots, many of their defensive coaches and players worked with Brady for several years, so they know the veteran QB's skill set as well as anyone. Slowing down Brady and his ultra-talented offense will still be a very difficult task, though.