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Dont'a Hightower: D+
I think Hightower misses Jerod Mayo. When I talked with Hightower during training camp, he specifically mentioned just how much Mayo helps him both on and off the field. With Hightower taking over his duties, he looked tentative, like he was thinking too much and doing too little.
He was replaced by Dane Fletcher—a better scheme fit due to his speed—late in the first half.
Brandon Spikes: B
Spikes was worth two linebackers against the Broncos. Without him, Knowshon Moreno might have eclipsed the 300-yard mark on the ground. Nobody in the NFL blows up the pulling guard on power plays better than Spikes.
Dane Fletcher: A-
After taking over Hightower's duties late in the first half, Fletcher provided a spark that helped propel the Patriots to victory. He diagnosed plays early, and his speed to the ball hides the fact that he was a defensive lineman in college. I think we'll see much more Fletcher in nickel and dime moving forward.
Jamie Collins: A
Collins finally showed the dynamic presence that captivated Patriots coaches on draft day. He was all over the field, racking up 10 tackles. He blitzed effectively, tackled well and made an enormous play by rooting the ball out of Wes Welker's hands in overtime.