MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Linebacker Dont’a Hightower did not make the trip for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Dolphins.
Hightower was limited in practice all week with a knee injury and was originally listed as questionable to play. The team downgraded him to out on Saturday afternoon.
Hightower was also limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday last week before not participating on Friday. He was still active against the Jaguars but only played 30 percent of the defensive snaps — his lowest percentage all year.
The 31-year-old captain first appeared on the injury report with an ankle issue leading up to the Week 7 game against the Jets. He did not play that week and remained on the injury report until Week 12 but did not miss another game.
Hightower was then off the injury report until last week, when he resurfaced because of his knee.
In his ninth NFL season — he opted out in 2020 — Hightower has started 15 games, recording 64 tackles, 4 quarterback hits, and 1½ sacks. He has been on the field for 62.7 percent of the defensive snaps.
Without Hightower, who plays outside and inside, the Patriots will have to shift things around within their linebacker corps. In addition to the usual crew of Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Matthew Judon, some of the younger players — Jahlani Tavai, Josh Uche, and Chase Winovich — could see an uptick in snaps.
New England’s defense was already going to be without safeties Kyle Dugger (hand) and Myles Bryant (reserve/COVID-19 list) against the Dolphins.
Much to be determined
The Patriots lost their chance at the No. 1 seed in the AFC when the Chiefs came back to beat the Broncos on Saturday, but could still end up finishing in any of the other six spots.
Here’s how they could end up at each:
▪ No. 2: Patriots win, Titans lose, and Bills lose or tie.
▪ No. 3: Patriots win, Titans win, and Bills lose or tie.
▪ No. 4: Patriots tie, Bengals beat the Browns, and Bills lose.
▪ No. 5 seed: Patriots win and Bills win. Or Patriots lose, Colts lose to or tie the Jaguars, and Chargers beat or tie the Raiders.
▪ No. 6 seed: Patriots lose, Colts win, and Chargers win or tie. Or Patriots lose, Colts lose or tie, and Raiders win.
▪ No. 7 seed: Patriots lose, Colts win, and Raiders win.
The Patriots temporarily elevated three players off the practice squad to the active roster for Sunday’s game. Defensive backs Sean Davis and D’Angelo Ross, along with defensive lineman Daniel Ekuale, will all be available.
All have appeared in games this season. The Patriots have opted to play Ross the past two weeks over 2019 second-round pick Joejuan Williams, who has not been active since Week 3.