Quick-hit thoughts after 1st quarter

SAN DIEGO – Quick-hit thoughts after the first quarter of the Patriots’ game against the Chargers, with the Patriots leading 7-3:

Dane Fletcher delivers. The rookie free agent out of Montana State forced a fumble that set up Rob Gronkowski’s touchdown catch. While cornerback Kyle Arrington had the initial wrap-up on the play, it was Fletcher – in his first snap of the day as part of a 3-3-5 nickel package – who delivered the big blow to knock the ball free. Fletcher was an unsung performer last week as a spy on Ravens running back Ray Rice and he’s once again making an impact.

Gronkowski in the red zone. Tight end Rob Gronkowski showed how his big frame (6-foot-6, 265 pounds) and long arms can be an asset in the red zone with his touchdown catch. It came off play-action out of the three-tight end set. Gronkowski has been targeted nine times in the passing game this season and he has eight catches and three touchdowns.

Special teams penalties stand out. The Patriots were flagged for three special teams penalties within the first four minutes of play – offside on the opening kickoff, a false start on a punt, and holding on a punt. Wasn’t it the Chargers’ special teams that were supposed to be poor?

Meriweather’s big hit. Some asked if safety Brandon Meriweather might lose his aggressiveness after being fined $50,000 last week. Meriweather answered that question with a bone-crunching on receiver Patrick Crayton on a completed pass. It looked like a legal hit, with Meriweather leading with his shoulder and

Getting physical with Antonio Gates. On the key third-down play in which the Patriots forced an incomplete pass, it was clear to see the team’s plan with tight end Antonio Gates. They are playing a 4-2-5 nickel defense and they had outside linebackers Tully Banta-Cain and Shawn Crable jam Gates at the line, with Gates – playing with a significant toe injury – unable to shake free.

Crowd is energized. While many Patriots fans might have bought up the final thousand tickets or so to prevent a local blackout on television, this is still a pro-Chargers crowd. It is loud and that is making things hard on the Patriots’ offense at times.

Patriots can’t make onside kick hurt. The Chargers tried an unsuccessful onside kick after opening a 3-0 lead. Rookie Dane Fletcher recovered, with the Patriots taking over at the 43 yard-line. But the offense couldn’t convert. After a strong run on first down by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Patriots had two incomplete passes.