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Quick-hit thoughts after 2nd quarter

1/1/2012

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts after the second quarter of the Patriots’ regular-season finale against the Bills (New England trails 21-14):

1. Nice response from the Patriots in the second quarter to get back in the game.

2. Tight end Aaron Hernandez and his ability to run after the catch, and pick up big-time yards, shined through in the quarter. After missing out on the Pro Bowl, Hernandez is showing why he should have been picked.

3. Defensive end Mark Anderson notched his 10th sack of the season with a strong move off the right edge. He’s been a solid free-agent pickup for the Patriots, filling the old Tully Banta-Cain nickel role. This is the first year since 1985 the Patriots have had two players with 10 or more sacks in a season (Anderson and Andre Carter).

4. Steven Ridley opened the game taking 18 of the first 22 offensive snaps at running back. This looks to be another step in the coaching staff’s confidence in him taking on an expanded role.

5. Tom Brady went over the 5,000-yard passing mark for the season, becoming just the third player in NFL history to do so.

6. Seeing quite a bit of veteran fullback Lousaka Polite, who was signed this week as a free agent. He was the lead-blocker on BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ 1-yard touchdown run and also is lining up on the kickoff return unit (in wedge position), punt return unit and kickoff coverage unit.

7. Big fourth-and-12 stop, with safety Patrick Chung shoot through the line, unaccounted for, to set up the Patriots’ final drive of the half. But the Patriots’ offense couldn’t capitalize, Tom Brady’s pass on third-and-12, intended for Wes Welker, intercepted.

8. Brandon Spikes was integrated into the defensive mix, replacing Dane Fletcher at linebacker in the nickel package.

9. Cornerback Kyle Arrington is struggling on the outside, with the Bills winning the one-on-one matchup when they throw in his direction.

10. Receiver Deion Branch might have had his injured groin tighten up. After playing eight of the first 11 snaps on offense, he didn’t play again. Tiquan Underwood took over the No. 2 WR role in his absence.

11. The Bills benched receiver Stevie Johnson after his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for lifting up his jersey after his touchdown (he wrote "Happy New Year" on his white shirt under the jersey).

12. The Patriots get the ball to open the second half.