Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower spark defense in playoff win over Colts
|01.12.14 at 3:14 am ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots’ next-man-up attitude has been a constant theme with this year’s team, and it couldn’t have been exemplified better than Saturday night with the play of linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins.
With starting linebackers Jerod Mayo on injured reserve since mid-Oct. and Brandon Spikes being added to that list earlier in the week, the Patriots entered the game very thin at the linebacker position. But, as has been the case with the team all year, players have stepped in and filled the role, with Saturday night it being Hightower and Collins.
Both players played every defensive snap in the 43-22 win over the Colts with Hightower leading the team with eight tackles and an interception, followed by Collins who had six tackles, including two for losses, while adding an interception of his own.
Collins, a rookie drafted in the second round out of Southern Mississippi, played in all 16 regular season games, but didn’t really start to see much playing time until late November when he had 10 tackles against the Broncos.
“If you watch, [Collins] has been getting better week by week,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “That’s what it’s about. Our young guys have worked their butts off all year and there’s cash in that now. All that work that they’ve put in is showing up now and I’m happy for them. I think he has a lot more big games in him and we’ve got to keep it rolling.”
Collins was all over the field Saturday night whether it was lining up on the outside opposite an Indianapolis receiver, thrashing the gap hard up the middle to stop the run, or hitting Colts quarterback Andrew Luck a team-high three times and sacking him once — the 23-year-old was making plays.
“First of all, he’s worked very hard,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s been very dependable and durable. He hasn’t missed anything all year. He started out playing ‘ not started out but he’s playing outside linebacker in regular, he plays off the line in some regular, he plays nickel linebacker. As you saw today, he’s out there split out tight end covering them on fade patterns and blitzing up the middle and he’s making tackles in line.
“I think he’s pretty comfortable wherever he is, whether he’s in line taking blockers or blitzing, or covering tight ends from in close. He’s a very versatile athlete that’s smart, works hard, really has a great team attitude. I love having him on our team.”
Collins echoed the overall mindset of the team’s next-man-up mentality.
“It’s a postseason game, a big game. We’re down a man, so you know, next man up,” he said. “That’s the way I look at it. Next man up.”
It’s been a self-admittedly up-and-down year for Hightower, but the second-year linebacker out of Alabama has picked up his game of late, having recorded six or more tackles in six straight games.
“I am and even when I was playing pretty bad and everybody was trying to get on me, but I feel like I’ve been playing a lot better at the end of the season,” Hightower said when asked if he’s getting more comfortable on the field. “As far as overall, there is always room for improvement and each and every week I’m trying to get better at little things and will be better off in the long run.”
With the depth at linebacker not getting better anytime soon, the Patriots will once again be counting on Collins and Hightower next week no matter who the opponent is.