Quick-hit thoughts after 3rd quarter

TAMPA -- Quick-hit thoughts after the third quarter of the Patriots' preseason game against the Buccaneers, with New England leading 31-7:

1. Rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett had a tough opening drive as he came on to the field for the start of the quarter, floating a pass over the middle that was intercepted by Elbert Mack and returned 69 yards for a touchdown. Mallett took a big hit, crashing to the turf, when he attempted to chase down Mack on the runback.

2. While offensive backups entered the game at the start of the second half, first-round pick Nate Solder remained in the game at left tackle for the first two series. The rest of the line consisted of left guard Jonathan Compas, center Rich Ohrnberger, right guard Thomas Austin and right tackle Steve Maneri.

3. Some good and bad from rookie running back Stevan Ridley. He is a hard-charging runner who showed once again he can help in the passing game. Everything was going his way until fumbling on fourth-and-1 as the Patriots went for it instead of trying a long Stephen Gostkowski field goal. The Buccaneers recovered.

4. Nice reaction and hands from cornerback Kyle Arrington on his interception of a pass that couldn't be corraled by receiver Michael Spurlock. Both players were on the ground, the ball never hit the turf, and Arrington gathered it in while on his back.

5. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski hit from 44 yards, making him 3 for 3 this preseason. He had hit from 43 and 46 in the preseason opener, as his leg strength is there after undergoing surgery on a torn right quad last year.

6. For the second time tonight, Bill Belichick inserted No. 2 quarterback Brian Hoyer into the game mid-drive. After one play on the team's fourth drive of the quarter, Hoyer replaced Ryan Mallett. Two incompletions.

7. Zoltan Mesko crushed a big punt (57 yards) at the end of the quarter, showing his strong left leg.