FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Entering the final period of play, the Patriots lead the Texans 31-13. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the third quarter.
1. Pats cruise on opening drive. The Patriots needed just 3:30 to march down the field on their opening drive to score a touchdown and extend their halftime lead to 11 points. The drive was aided in large part by a 40-yard completion to tight end Aaron Hernandez, one of two receptions for him on the series. Stevan Ridley eventually capped it off with an eight-yard score, as the Patriots made it look easy against the Houston defensive front.
2. Still no Gronkowski, Woodhead; Jones not on field. A return from tight end Rob Gronkowski looks unlikely, as he remains out after suffering a second quarter arm injury. Running back Danny Woodhead has been on the sidelines with a wrap on his left thumb, but has not stepped back onto the field (Gronkowski has not returned to the sidelines). Meanwhile, rookie defensive end Chandler Jones has remained out since leaving the game late in the second quarter, and is questionable to return with an ankle injury. The Patriots have shifted to some three man defensive fronts with Jones off the field.
3. Ninkovich snags big interception. The Texans had something going on offense, but defensive end Rob Ninkovich managed to disguise a coverage and leap for an interception of Matt Schaub. The big play stalled what had been Houston's best offensive series of the quarter, and gave the Patriots their first forced turnover of the day. Ninkovich has not shown ill-effects of a Week 17 hip injury.
4. Lloyd scores in postseason debut. Veteran wide receiver Brandon Lloyd is making his playoff debut today, and he is off to a good start with a third quarter touchdown catch to put the Patriots up 31-13. Lloyd's four-yard score concluded yet another easy drive for the Patriots offense, with Ridley doing much of the heavy lifting on the ground. The Texans had few answers for New England in the third quarter.
5. Penalty box. No Patriots were flagged for penalties during the third quarter.