Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New England Patriots [Print without images]

Sunday, January 22, 2012
Quick-hit thoughts after 1st quarter

By Mike Reiss

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts after the first quarter of the AFC Championship Game (New England leads 3-0 but Baltimore is driving):

1. Tom Brady's interception, similar to last year's playoff loss to the Jets, was a momentum changer.

2. Great start for the defense, with three straight three-and-outs. The confidence of the D had been on the rise and the unit has carried that into this game. The run defense, in particular, has been excellent.

3. One of the keys to the game is the red zone, where the Ravens’ defense ranked first in the NFL during the regular season (just 16 touchdowns allowed in 42 trips). The Ravens won the first red-zone challenge, holding the Patriots to a field goal. Key play: Paul Kruger beating rookie right tackle Nate Solder for a sack to create long-yardage plays on second and third downs.

4. Brady had tight end Rob Gronkowski open for a would-be touchdown, on what looked like a mix-up by the Ravens’ defense, but the throw was just too far. That was the Patriots’ biggest missed opportunity of the first quarter. That reflects how the Ravens have had some early success disrupting the timing of the Patriots' passing game.

5. Cornerback Ladarius Webb’s illegal contact penalty on Wes Welker negated an interception and kept the Patriots’ scoring drive alive. Looked like the right call from this view. Webb later atoned with an interception, with Brady looking to loft a pass over the top to Julian Edelman.

6. In the base defense, Devin McCourty is playing cornerback. When the Patriots bring on Sterling Moore to replace safety James Ihedigbo as part of a different package, Moore plays cornerback and McCourty moves back to safety. That’s similar to what the Patriots did last week.

7. The Patriots have also shown nickel and dime looks on defense, mixing up their packages to give quarterback Joe Flacco different looks.

8. Edelman is playing both offense and defense. He has been the third receiver alongside Deion Branch and Welker, and is also playing in nickel and dime packages. He had a big third-down catch, but also was the intended receiver on that Webb interception.

9. Six of the Patriots' first nine offensive plays came without a running back on the field, the team turning to the 3 WR/2 TE package that was effective against the Broncos last week.

10. Punter Zoltan Mesko had just three touchbacks in the regular season. His first attempt today resulted in a touchback.

11. Two kickoffs for Stephen Gostkowski, two touchbacks. Can’t ask for more than that.