Remember when the New England Patriots had a 1-2 record and linebacker Dont’a Hightower “looked slow” earlier this season?

There were concerns about Hightower’s form and health after a torn pectoral muscle limited him to five games last season. And the Patriots were trying to keep things going with a 41-year-old quarterback who passed for 133 yards in a Week 3 loss to the Detroit Lions.

Since then, New England has won 8 of 9, quarterback Tom Brady has a 96.9 passer rating, and Hightower is doing just fine. Just ask Coach Bill Belichick.

“High always does a good job,” Belichick said. “He’s a very, very smart player. He’s a very instinctive player. He has good anticipation, good awareness. He knows what the strength and weaknesses of each defensive call is, and then he can pretty quickly assess that based on the offensive formation, personnel and what happens after the ball is snapped.”

In New England’s 24-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, Hightower made five tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage. But to Belichick, Hightower’s most important contribution came in conducting the Patriots’ defensive performance.

“Any time High is on the field, our communication, certainly at his position and with the people that he works with, is always good,” Belichick said.

Hightower’s playing time has varied this season. For example, the previous week, he played 38 of New England’s 62 defensive snaps. On Sunday, he played 59 of 61.

Hightower’s intelligence came in particularly handy against the Vikings, with New England presenting a variety of looks to Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Vikings posted their second-lowest point total and Cousins had his second-lowest passing output of the season.

“Those guys did a real good job this week of disguising our packages on defense and with various personnel groups,” Belichick said.

THE DOLPHINS don’t know if Danny Amendola will bounce back from an ankle injury in time for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. But Coach Adam Gase does know that Amendola is chomping at the bit to get back on the field to face his former team.

“This is the first time that I would say that he’s not being very compliant with me,” Gase said, drawing a laugh. “Because he wants to play in this game as bad as anybody.”

Amendola, 33, sustained an ankle injury in Week 12 against Indianapolis. He missed last week’s game against Buffalo but has practiced this week. However, the team is going to monitor his status before making a decision on whether the receiver will play.

As of Wednesday, Amendola was spotted running routes and fielding punts at practice.

PRACTICE REPORT: Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are back where the Patriots hate to see them: the injury report.

According to the team’s Wednesday report, Brady (knee) and Gronkowski (back/ankle) were both limited in a padded practice. Safety Patrick Chung and tight end Dwayne Allen also were on the list.

Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.