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Pats LB Dont'a Hightower out for season with torn pec

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Just as the New England Patriots' defense appeared to turn the corner, it suffered another body blow.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday that linebacker Dont'a Hightower has a torn pec and is out for the season, according to a source informed of the situation. He underwent surgery Thursday, Rapoport added.

Losing Hightower for the duration of 2017 is a huge hit to the Patriots' defense. The veteran was the biggest playmaker in the front seven, but his importance went beyond production. Hightower is the defensive leader and communicator on the field. When he was in the lineup, the other positions fell more neatly into place.

It's no coincidence that when Hightower returned to the lineup after missing Weeks 2 and 3, the Patriots found their groove. Over the past three games, the Patriots defense is tied for 4th in the NFL in points allowed and upped its standing in every notable category from the disastrous start to the 2017 campaign.

With Hightower done for the year, it puts more pressure on linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts. Veteran David Harris, who has played sparingly, could see his early-down spans increase.

Bill Belichick could also look to upgrade his linebacking corps with a trade before Tuesday's deadline.

Hightower signed a four-year $35.5 million contract in March.

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