Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty Earn Praise For Patriots’ Defensive Turnaround

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Bill Belichick went out of his way to recognize two of the New England Patriots’ defensive leaders following the unit’s strong performance Thursday night.

After allowing 33 points in consecutive weeks, the Patriots held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to two touchdowns and nothing more in a 19-14 victory, allaying some concerns about a defense that ranked among the NFL’s worst through the first month of the season.

The Patriots had just four days to right the ship after Sunday’s humbling loss to the Carolina Panthers, and Belichick, who rarely singles out individual players when speaking with the media, praised linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Devin McCourty for the work they did as team captains during the short week.

“I really thought this week that High and McCourty really gave us some great leadership defensively in our preparation,” the Patriots coach said Friday in a conference call. “(They had) the right attitude to go down and play in the game and (knew) what we needed to do. It was a short week, and I thought they really stepped up from a leadership standpoint in that group and did a great job for us.

“That’s always good to see, and I just wanted to recognize it. Because I think sometimes, you just see the plays out on the field — and obviously, they’re very, very important. But there are a lot of things that go into how it all comes together, and I thought those two players defensively did a real good job for us this week.”

Their play on the field was strong, too. McCourty finished with 11 tackles to lead all Patriots defenders, and Hightower, who missed Weeks 2 and 3 with a knee injury, played a season-high 62 defensive snaps (86 percent), seeing time both at inside linebacker and on the edge.

“Dont’a is a very versatile player,” Belichick said. “He’s played a lot of different positions for us — on the line, off the line, linebacker, coverage, rushing inside, rushing outside. But I think (Thursday) night, he probably played as many plays as he’s played all year. He was in for more plays, and he had an opportunity do more things and be used in different groupings and roles and so forth.”

Thumbnail photo via Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports Images

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