The New England Patriots’ defense seemed to be making substantial improvements, but it has now lost another high-ranking member.

Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower Injury News

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower, 27, will miss the remainder of the season due to a torn pectoral, according to several reports. He underwent surgery Thursday.

Hightower — a former first-round pick out of Alabama — has been with the Patriots since 2012. He was injured in Sunday’s 23-7 victory over the Atlanta Falcons while tackling running back Devonta Freeman with 3:04 remaining in the third quarter.

The 6-foot-3, 265-pound linebacker missed games in Weeks 2 and 3 with a knee injury suffered during the third quarter of the season opener.

He has recorded 14 tackles and two sacks this season.

In Hightower’s absence, the Pats have Kyle Van NoyElandon Roberts, David Harris, Marquis Flowers and Trevor Reilly on their off-the-line linebacker depth chart. Roberts missed the game against Atlanta with an ankle injury.

“That’s terrible news for a guy like Hightower to go down with that injury and to be out for the year,” Harris said. “What he means to this defense, knowing the defense like the back of his hand, to lose a guy like that is a huge blow for the team. … As a linebacker group, we have to try to fill his place, which is going to be tough to do.”

Hightower was one of the most coveted unrestricted free agents this past offseason. He signed a four-year, $35.5 million contract with New England that included a $10 million signing bonus. He helped lead the Patriots to their Super Bowl LI victory in February, as well as Super Bowl XLIX in 2015.

Meanwhile, six-year veteran LB Shea McLellin — who began the season on injured reserve — is eligible to return Nov. 12 against the Denver Broncos.

The Patriots host the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.

HOUSTON, TX – FEBRUARY 05: Dont’a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Devin McCourty #32 after forcing a fumble from Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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