Sunday 7: Dont’a Hightower reflects on missing only one game this season, fan support following Super Bowl

Ryan Hannable
February 10, 2019 - 4:39 am

1. Who said winning gets old? It wasn’t just the 1.5 million people at the Patriots’ victory parade in Boston on Tuesday, the outpouring of support has continued throughout the week. Members of the team got a huge ovation when appearing at the Celtics game Thursday night, and then on Saturday fans showed their support for linebacker Dont’a Hightower. He was scheduled to sign autographs at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Danvers, MA from 1:30-2:30 p.m. and fans were lined up outside as early as 6 a.m. to make sure they were one of the 250 people guaranteed to get in on the action. “The parade, 1.5 million people, it’s crazy,” he said before the signing. “I was just told there were people sitting outside at like 6 o’clock this morning. If you didn’t feel love before, I don’t know what love is. I go out there and play ball in the freezing cold and these guys are out here waiting to get an autograph. There is just a lot of love and I appreciate that. Not only me, but everybody in the New England Patriots organization.” As for what is next for the soon-to-be 29-year-old over the next few weeks, it looks like a lot of relaxation following the long season. “Right now I am just enjoying my time off,” he said. “Looking forward to getting back with my family and friends and enjoying this win a little bit.”

2. One of the biggest things with Hightower over the course of his seven-year career has been his inability to stay on the field for a full season. Prior to this season, he hadn’t played in more than 12 games since 2013. But, thanks to a new offseason workout routine, the linebacker only missed one game this year, and actually played his best down the stretch, including recording two sacks in Super Bowl LIII. During the year, he acknowledged he spent more time last offseason working on smaller muscles, which included more of a focus on acupuncture and soft tissue. “Absolutely,” he said when asked if the new routine helped him stay on the field. “It was awesome. I hadn’t played as many games in a season as this year [in awhile]. Going into the offseason last year, that was a big, big emphasis of mine. I am glad to be where I am at, blessed to be where I am at. Hard work pays off.”

3. When we noted earlier this week how tough this offseason would be for Bill Belichick, we were referring more to the number of coaches that will need to be replaced, which is now up to five. Many have wondered why all these coaches are leaving after winning the Super Bowl, especially many making lateral moves, and it is due to a number of factors. Some may see their path to moving up in the organization just not being there because of who is ahead of them, while others are on expiring contracts and they view this as a chance to join another organization and perhaps get more money, as well as added responsibility.

4. Following a week of celebrating for the team, don’t be surprised if there are a few retirement announcements this week. Rob Gronkowski waited until the end of April to announce he was returning for this season, but things are not expected to take that long this time around. It isn’t just him potentially retiring, either. Now that the players have had a week to take the win in and enjoy themselves, now is the time to look ahead to 2019. Some names to keep an eye on: Gronkowski, Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty and potentially Matthew Slater.

5. Speaking of 2019, the Patriots have a few top tier free agents at their respective positions, including defensive end Trey Flowers and offensive tackle Trent Brown. It seems very unlikely with the current cap situation that the team will be able to keep both. As of now, Flowers seems like the bigger priority to bring back considering what the Patriots have coming back on the defensive line (not much at all). The offensive line has Marcus Cannon at right tackle and rookie tackle Isaiah Wynn on injured reserve, so there are options to survive if he does not return.

6. There’s been some buzz the last few days regarding Danny Amendola potentially being released by Miami to save $6 million against the cap and then returning to New England, but don’t count on it. As NFL Media’s Mike Giardi pointed out, a more realistic landing spot could be with the Jets and rejoining Adam Gase. The Patriots will be upgrading their receivers this offseason, but Amendola likely will not be part of it.

7. There isn’t much time off for the Patriots. It’s likely the coaching staff will take a few days to enjoy the win, but then they will be back to work getting caught up on the upcoming draft prospects with the combine scheduled for the last week of February. Belichick’s first priority when he gets back in the building will be finalizing his coaching staff, as he likely will want that firmed up by the time everyone departs for Indianapolis and the combine. While winning a Super Bowl is always nice, Belichick has often said it means they have a lot of catching up to do to the rest of the league when it comes to offseason matters.

Related: Patriots reportedly lose yet another defensive coach