Sometimes, there's one story that dominates and entire news cycle. Today, that news involves Patriots linebacker/co-captain Dont'a Hightower, whose 2017 season appears to be over.
Multiple media reports – originated by NFL Network – indicated that Hightower tore a pectoral muscle in New England's 23-7 win over the Falcons in Week 7. Apparently, he's already gone under the knife to begin his recovery.
Reaction from Hightower's teammates today was universal. All were devastated, yet confident that the team must respond quickly to fill the void he now leaves. At least one player was overheard referring to Hightower as the Patriots' best defensive player.
"Terrible news… To go down with that injury and to be out for the year… it's a huge loss," fellow linebacker David Harris proclaimed.
"It's a tough loss... Communication, everything. He's a huge part of what we do," added safety Devin McCourty, a fellow co-captain.
"Yeah, you know, it's football. It happens. Hope for a speedy recovery," wide receiver Chris Hogan remarked. "He's a good football player."
More than just a good football player, most of Hightower's teammates say he's an exceptional one for this organization.
"I've seen numerous guys go down over my career," Harris continued, "but Hightower is a special guy in this locker room… What he means to this defense. He's one of the captains of the team. He knows the defense like the back of his hand. To lose a guy like that is a huge blow for the team. But as a linebacker group we have to step up and try to fill his place, which is going to be tough to do."
"Dont'a is a special player," echoed linebacker Kyle Van Noy. "He does a lot for this team. It's going to take a group effort [to replace him]. He's a leader of this team and the defense. We know what we have to do to fill his spot. As a unit, everyone has to step up and hold each other accountable and get on the right page."
Even though the Patriots have a bye week coming up right after this weekend's home tilt with the Los Angeles Chargers, players insist they don't have much time to compose themselves and compensate for Hightower's absence. McCourty declared that "open tryouts" on a weekly basis are out of the question.
"As a team we'll always figure it out, I firmly believe... Whether it takes a quarter or two quarters, it'll happen."
"There's really no conversation needed," Van Noy maintained. "Everybody knows what they need to do."
"We hate to lose a guy like that… Nobody wants to see somebody lost for the season," Harris emphasized, "but it's on all of us to step up, myself included. Injuries are part of the sport, unfortunately. And it's always next man up."
Harris, who started versus Atlanta, saw his most significant playing time of the season last week, much of which came after Hightower left the game in the second half. The Patriots may have to call on him more frequently in the days and weeks ahead now that Hightower is unavailable.
"It felt good to be out there," Harris acknowledged. "I'm just ready when my number is called. I continue to prepare for that instance. We have a lot of veterans in this locker room and guys that have played a lot of ball, myself included. You have to prepare as a professional. This is our job, to be ready whenever you are on the field. Nothing changes in that aspect."
In a rare in-season move, the Patriots held a Thursday walkthrough instead of a padded practice. The session took place at the team's indoor practice facility behind Gillette Stadium, due to the heavy rains that have battered the southern New England area the past couple of days.
It's unclear if the change of venue and equipment had more to do with the weather conditions or the coaching staff wanting to give its players a chance to recover from any lingering aches and pains.
On a positive injury note, wide receiver Danny Amendola (knee) appeared to take part at least on a limited basis after being held out of Wednesday's full-pads workout. He was present for the beginning of the walkthrough when the team went through its stretching period.