Quick-hit thoughts after 1st quarter

January, 14, 2012
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Quick-hit thoughts after the first quarter of the Patriots’ divisional-round playoff game against the Broncos (New England leads 14-0):

1. The Patriots were ready to explode. So much for those slow starts.

2. Great bend around the left edge by Rob Ninkovich on his strip sack and forced fumble that ended the Broncos’ first drive. Ninkovich struggled in the first quarter of the Dec. 18 meeting between the Patriots and Broncos, but he looks explosive tonight. He had been hampered by a hip injury that limited him to 24 plays in the season finale, but the bye week obviously was big for him.

3. Ninkovich also showed great patience and discipline in dropping running back Willis McGahee for a 2-yard loss on the Broncos’ second drive. He later added a pressure on Tim Tebow. Ninkovich is an early star in this game.

4. It was a sensational opening drive for the Patriots, as they received the opening kickoff with the Broncos deferring the choice after winning the toss. All it took was five plays for a touchdown (7-yard pass from Tom Brady to Wes Welker) and it was the sudden tempo shift that stood out. After two plays, the Patriots put their 3 WR/2 TE personnel on the field, went up-tempo, and it was a lethal strike.

5. The versatility of tight end Aaron Hernandez allows the Patriots to play this way. Lining him up in the backfield, and having him rip off a 43-yard rush on the opening drive, is something you don’t see from many NFL teams. He’s been all across the offensive formation.

6. Ten of the Patriots’ 16 plays came out of the 3 WR/2 TE package. If this keeps up, we might not see much of the running back group tonight.

7. Rob Gronkowski. Wow. What a touchdown catch.

8. Tom Brady’s interception is the type of critical mistake one doesn’t expect him to make. He just sailed a pass over Gronkowski for an interception over the middle. He had been on fire prior to that and it might have been a miscommunication between Brady and Gronkowski. Brady hit himself on the helmet after the play, clearly disgusted with the result. That play has the Broncos knocking on the door for a touchdown.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter



You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?