FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots will be without starting linebacker Dont'a Hightower and top slot receiver Danny Amendola for Sunday's road game against the New Orleans Saints, as the club has officially ruled them out with injuries.
Hightower has a right knee injury that he sustained in the third quarter of the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs and hasn't practiced all week. Amendola sustained both a concussion and a knee injury in the second half of that game and didn't practice all week.
Because both players didn't practice, they weren't expected to play Sunday. In addition, the Patriots ruled out special-teams standouts Matthew Slater (hamstring) and Nate Ebner (shoulder), as well as No. 3 defensive tackle Vincent Valentine (knee). Slater and Valentine are out for the second week in a row.
Hightower is one of the team's defensive captains and a signal-caller, so his absence hits at the heart of the team's defense. The unit is looking to rebound after giving up 42 points and 537 yards in a season-opening loss to the Chiefs. The 537 yards were the fourth-most in franchise history and the most surrendered by a Patriots defense in Bill Belichick's 18-year head-coaching tenure. The Patriots will likely utilize multiple players to fill Hightower's role, including off-the-line linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, David Harris and Marquis Flowers and end-of-the-line players Trey Flowers, Cassius Marsh and rookies Deatrich Wise and Harvey Langi.
Meanwhile, Amendola was the team's top replacement for injured receiver Julian Edelman in the slot. Unless the Patriots promote a receiver from the practice squad, they will enter the game with just three receivers: Chris Hogan, Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett. The Patriots acquired Dorsett in a trade from the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 2.