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Sunday, December 30, 2012
Quick-hit thoughts on third quarter

By Field Yates

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Entering the final period of the regular season, the Patriots lead the Dolphins 21-0. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the third quarter:

1. Scott picks up pressure. The first time the Patriots played the Dolphins in 2012, defensive end Trevor Scott registered two sacks in his first start with New England. He's at it again today, as on consecutive plays on the Dolphins' opening drive of the half he generated substantial pressure. The first pressure led to an easy sack for teammate Vince Wilfork, while the second pressure came on a sack of his own, his third this season.

2. Fells returns; no sign of Ninkovich. Tight end Daniel Fells left the game in the first half with a hand injury that the team said left him questionable to return. Fells did return, as he was on the field for the second offensive play in the third quarter. With Rob Gronkowski continuing to work his way back into the mix, both Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui have been used extensively in two-tight-end sets. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich, however, has not yet returned to the sideline after suffering a hip injury in the second quarter.

3. Hightower recovers Fins' blunder. Running back Reggie Bush failed to take a clean handoff from quarterback Ryan Tannehill on a run near the goal line, opening the door for rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower to fall on the loose ball and give the Patriots the football back. The fumble recovery stalled the Dolphins' best drive of the day and preserved the Patriots' shot at a shutout.

4. Light load for Gronk. It wasn't until just over two minutes to play in the quarter that Gronkowski returned to the field, and he played just three snaps in the quarter. With the Patriots holding on to a three-score lead, it's likely that the team is playing it safe with Gronk. No need to risk any re-injury to the forearm or his hip, which has also been an issue for much of the season.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were flagged for penalties in the third quarter: center Ryan Wendell (holding).