With the Patriots coming off by far their best defensive performance of the season, it looks like Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia will now have to deal with life without arguably the unit's best player.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Don't'a Hightower is out of the season with a torn pectoral muscle.
Hightower left Sunday's Falcons game late in the third quarter with what the Patriots announced as a shoulder injury and did not return. The 6-3, 265-pound linebacker was injured while tackling Atlanta's Devonta Freeman but he remained on the sideline for the remainder of the game, offering some optimism that the injury wasn't considered serious. Evidently that was not the case.
Hightower has dealt with injuries throughout his career, including earlier this season when he was knocked out of the opener against Kansas City with a knee injury. He missed the next two games and returned in Week 4 against Carolina and has been in the lineup since.
He leaves a significant void on defense as the team's most talented and versatile linebacker. He's spent time on the line at defensive end as well as his traditional inside linebacker spot this season, and the Patriots will now turn to Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, David Harris, Marquis Flowers and Trevor Reilly, who was recently promoted from the practice squad. Shea McClellin returned to the practice field last week and would be eligible to return to the active roster for the Patriots Week 10 trip to Denver.
The trade deadline is looming on Halloween so it's also possible that Belichick swings a trade to acquire some depth at a thin position.