- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Sharing some halftime thoughts with the Patriots leading the Dolphins, 21-0:
The Patriots have played with much better energy today. Everything they are doing, from a simple substitution, has been done with more urgency.
They’ve controlled the game.
Meanwhile, the defense has been solid against the run and snapped quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s streak of four straight games without an interception (safety Steve Gregory had a pick in the first quarter), which was a turning point in the game because it led to the Patriots' first points and they haven't looked back.
By the time kickoff came around, the Patriots knew they had a chance at a first-round playoff bye because the Texans lost to the Colts, and perhaps that has contributed to an approach in which Brady and all the regulars have played throughout. Bill Belichick had to keep “playoff interests” in mind in terms of how he used his personnel in this game.
Along those lines, tight end Rob Gronkowski returned for the first time since breaking his left forearm on Nov. 18 and was on for 18 of 46 snaps (including penalties).
On the injury front, defensive end Rob Ninkovich left in the second quarter with a hip injury and headed straight to the locker room with the help of the medical and athletic training staff. His loss would be a big blow as he’s a dependable edge-setter and pass-rusher who has played 85 percent of the snaps this season, staying on the field on all three downs (and on fourth down with the punt team). The Patriots are deep at the position, with Jermaine Cunningham the likely next man up, followed by Trevor Scott, Justin Francis and Jake Bequette.
The Dolphins get the ball to start the second half after winning the opening toss and deferring the decision.