FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots continued to build a decisive lead against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half of Sunday’s Super Bowl LI rematch, but did so without two of their key defenders.
Defensive tackle Malcom Brown left the game in the third quarter with an ankle injury and linebacker Dont’a Hightower injured his shoulder. Neither returned to the game.
Wide receiver Chris Hogan left briefly after his 30-yard catch in the second half. He was briefly in the medical before returning to the game. NBC’s Al Michaels revealed during the broadcast that Hogan lost a couple of teeth after taking a hard hit in practice last week. He also was on the injury report with a rib ailment, the result of a hard shot he took against the Jets last week.
Hightower, who sprained his knee in Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs, missed the next two games and returned in Week 4 against the Panthers. Earlier this month, Hightower said his conditioning was not where he wanted it to be after missing valuable time.
“No, I mean, just missing time like that is time that I’m not going to get back, time that I missed on the field with my teammates, that chemistry that I missed, but my experience in the defense helps me a little bit more than most,’’ Hightower said Oct. 12.
Brown, meanwhile, has been one of the Patriots’ more consistent performers along the defensive front. The third-year defensive lineman has started every game for the Patriots this season. In the Patriots’ win against the Jets last week, Brown was strong against the run and had four tackles. Brown played 44 snaps and had two run stops.
His play this season has helped anchor the Patriots run defense, especially with veteran Alan Branch, who was one of the Patriots’ best defensive lineman last season, underperforming.