Share story

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — A person familiar with the situation says the New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower will miss Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers and is facing season-ending surgery on his right shoulder.

The surgery will be for a torn pectoral muscle, the person told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity Thursday because it has not yet been announced by the team.

Hightower left Sunday’s win over Atlanta in the second half with the shoulder issue and sat out the first practice of the week Wednesday. He’s missed two games this season with a knee injury.

It comes as a blow for a Patriots defense that has improved in recent weeks, but continues to rank last in the NFL in total defense, giving up 426.7 yards per game.

Hightower has 14 tackles and two sacks. In March, he signed a new four-year deal worth $35.5 million.

With Hightower out, his snaps are expected to fall to Kyle Van Noy and veteran David Harris.

Van Noy has started all seven games this season and has 49 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks. Harris has appeared in four games with one start and has four tackles.

“For a guy like Hightower to go down with that injury, to be out for the year and what he means to this defense — he’s one of the captains of this team,” Harris said. “He knows this 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 gotta step up and try to take his place, which is gonna be tough to do.”

Though Harris hasn’t had much opportunity to contribute to date, coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday that he has been pleased with how Harris has adapted since he was signed in June.

“That’s the role. That’s what it is and when it changes it changes,” Belichick said. “What a player can do to change it is to work hard and improve and do things better than what he’s doing them to get more of an opportunity.”

Safety and defensive Devin McCourty said adjusting without Hightower is something the defense must do collectively.

“I think for all of us, it’s just being prepared and being ready to go,” McCourty said. “It’s not just one guy, it’s not just Kyle Van Noy trying to fill Hightower’s (position). It’s all the guys stepping up and preparing and playing a little bit better.”


For more NFL coverage: and