Dont'a Hightower explains his unusual in-game break against Washington

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As one of the key players of the New England Patriots' defense, linebacker Dont'a Hightower seldom leaves the field. The only time he might head to the sideline is in the dime package, when Jamie Collins is the lone pure linebacker on the field.

So it was notable in Sunday's win over Washington that Hightower came off for the second and fourth series of the second half, giving way to the combination of Jonathan Freeny and Jerod Mayo in the 4-2-5 nickel.

Hightower explained the absence during his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI on Monday, saying he was fighting "a little virus."

"I'm feeling better. I'm good," Hightower told hosts Glenn Ordway, Christian Fauria and Lou Merloni.

It was a quiet game for Hightower, who finished with one tackle and wasn't able to capitalize on some pass-rush opportunities in 1-on-1 situations he usually wins (e.g. 12:56 third quarter, when blocked by a tight end). But he still contributed to the win in other areas, such as in coverage (:37, second quarter).

Other than the Oct. 11 win over Dallas, when he left in the first quarter with a rib injury, Hightower's 36 snaps against Washington marked his lowest total of the season.

Fellow linebacker Collins missed the game with an illness.