BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots emerged from the AFC Championship Game with most of their health preserved, but not completely.

The Patriots practiced in full pads on Thursday, but defensive captain Dont’a Hightower wore a red non-contact jersey. Hightower was a limited participant in the Patriots’ practice report on Thursday.

“I feel like I’ve been playing football for a year,” Hightower told reporters after practice.

Hightower played just 36 snaps in the AFC title game vs. Pittsburgh, which amounted to roughly half of Pittsburgh’s offensive plays. He recorded a tackle on the first-down run on the series that ended in a goal-line stand before halftime. He had played 100 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in the divisional round vs. Houston.

Hightower recorded 31 solo tackles — and 65 total tackles — along with 2.5 sacks, two passes defensed and a forced fumble on the season.

Two members of the Patriots were absent from Thursday’s practice: special teamer Nate Ebner (concussion) and kicker Stephen Gostkowski (illness).

In addition to Hightower, wide receivers Danny Amendola (ankle), Chris Hogan (thigh) and Malcolm Mitchell (knee), tight end Martellus Bennett (knee), running back Brandon Bolden (knee), and defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard (knee) were all limited at Thursday’s practice.

The Patriots will practice three more times in Foxboro before leaving for Houston on Monday.


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