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Sunday, November 3, 2013
Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

By Mike Reiss

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing some thoughts at halftime as the New England Patriots lead the Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-10:

Welcome back, Gronk: Tight end Rob Gronkowski has been a big-time difference-maker in the first half, with seven receptions for 119 yards and one touchdown, including a drawn pass interference penalty in the end zone. He's played 28 of 39 snaps (including penalties). If there is one thing that has stood out from the Patriots' overall plan, it's that they are leaning heavier on multiple tight-end groupings. They have mostly been a three-plus-receiver offense this season, but they're going more TE-heavy in this game. That has helped provide them some more balance.

Mental toughness to answer big swings: This has been a game with wild swings, but every time something has gone against the Patriots, they've seemed to have the answer. That's the sign of a mentally tough team.

Cornerbacks hurt on the outside: After struggling early on offense, the Steelers seemed to find something that worked for them by attacking cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard on the outside in man coverage. Something to watch as we get into the second half.

Sopoaga makes an early mark: Newly acquired nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga was on the field for 12 snaps in the first half, playing when the Steelers brought on an extra offensive lineman or played with two backs. His stout presence at the line of scrimmage contributed to a fourth-and-1 stop. Rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones continue to start at defensive tackle in the regular base defense, but Sopoaga -- at 6-foot-2 and 330 pounds -- is already helping the club in situational duty.

Ridley takes back the lead role: One week after playing just 20 snaps, lead running back Stevan Ridley was a bigger part of the plan today. That tied to the tight-end-heavy approach the Patriots went with, as Ridley is a bigger back who runs with power and this was less of a spread-them-out game that called for "passing back" Brandon Bolden. Ridley played 26 of 39 snaps (including penalties) in the first half.

Collie hobbles off: On the injury front, receiver Austin Collie hobbled off to the sideline late in the second quarter. His status bears watching in the second half. He is the No. 4 receiver today.

Patriots get ball to open second half: The Steelers won the opening toss and elected to receive the kickoff to start the game,so the Patriots will get the ball to start the third quarter.