BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots defense looked much-improved last Thursday against the Buccaneers after a rocky first four weeks of the season, but they’re not out of the woods yet. Defensive captain Dont’a Hightower knows that as well as anyone.

Speaking to reporters in Foxboro on Thursday, Hightower acknowledged that he and the Patriots defense are happy with the progress they made in Tampa, but the group is far from satisfied with where they are right now.

“Obviously, when you see progress like that you’re happy to see it. We came a short way but we’ve got a longer way to go,” said Hightower. “The season is a lot longer. Obviously, there were things that we liked and things that we didn’t like. At the end of the day, that’s football. Hopefully, [we’re] just going to build on from last week.”

The Patriots allowed 14 points to the Bucs on Thursday Night Football after giving up an average of 32 points in their first four games. However, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston still passed for 334 yards; the Patriots are allowing 323 passing yards per game through five weeks, the most in the NFL.

Hightower played 62 defensive snaps (86 percent) against the Bucs, continuing to work his way back to a full workload after a knee injury forced him to miss two games. He admitted that, physically, he’s still not where he wants to be.

“No, I mean, just missing time like that is time that I’m not going to get back, time that I missed on the field with my teammates, that chemistry that I missed, but my experience in the defense helps me a little bit more than most,” said Hightower. “Every rep that I can get, whether it’s in there with [Deatrich] Wise, or [Adam] Butler, or [Cassius] Marsh or just guys that I’m not in there with, I take full advantage of that.

“Even today watching film I got the new guys right around me so we’re all talking and we’re communicating and we’re trying to progress as a defense. It’s not a one-man thing. We’re not depending on one person or anything like that. We’re only as good as our weakest link so we’re just trying to keep everybody as sharp as we can.”

628 donta hightower super bowl Hightower: Still Long Way To Go For Himself, Patriots Defense

Dont’a Hightower reacts after a sack on Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 51. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

On Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the Patriots face a Jets offense that has averaged 18.4 points per game, the 23rd-lowest mark in the league. The Jets also rank 27th with nine total touchdowns. However, they are 2-0 at home and have won three in a row.

Hightower knows that he and the defense are still going to have to communicate well in order to play to their capabilities against the Jets, but he feels good about how they are progressing in that department – even if it’s moving along slower than usual.

“We have our communicators and we’re starting to evolve,” said Hightower. “It took a little bit longer than we’d like but hopefully we’ll grasp that and keep moving in the right direction and keep building and be a better and stronger defense each week.”

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