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Sunday, January 13, 2013
Sharing some halftime thoughts

By Mike Reiss

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing some thoughts at halftime of the Patriots-Texans game, with the Patriots leading 17-13:

The start wasn’t what the Patriots wanted -- giving up a 94-yard kickoff return by Danieal Manning to open the game -- but things ultimately settled down. After falling behind 3-0, the Patriots scored the game's next 17 points before the Texans closed with the final 10 points of the half.

Vince Wilfork has been dominant at the line of scrimmage for the Patriots and has been a big part of why the Texans can’t get their running game going. The overall tackling has been solid, and the Patriots are matching cornerback Aqib Talib against receiver Andre Johnson, regardless of where Johnson aligns, which is an X’s and O’s wrinkle of note.

It’s been a game mostly played in the base defense against the Texans’ two-tight end package. The Patriots are winning the battle up front, and Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has looked shaky. The Texans did have some early opportunities that they didn’t convert, and that has cost them, although they enter the locker room with some confidence after scoring the half's final 10 points. That wasn't the way the Patriots wanted to close the half.

Offensively, the Patriots clearly wanted to start fast by not substituting and leaving their two-tight end package on the field. In that type of game plan, the club often leans toward its smaller backs, as they are viewed as the best pass-protectors.

That explains the discrepancy in snaps played -- Shane Vereen with 27, Stevan Ridley with nine and Danny Woodhead with one. Woodhead likely would have been featured more if not for injuring his thumb on the first offensive play on a run up the middle.

Elsewhere on the injury front, tight end Rob Gronkowski left on the seventh offensive snap with an arm injury and hasn’t returned. The Patriots didn’t alter their approach much after losing Gronkowski, staying with the two-tight end package for 24 of the next 30 snaps. That thrust Michael Hoomanawanui into Gronkowski’s role. The offense has played fast for stretches of the action and the Texans have mostly been on their heels.

Wes Welker has been terrific, as usual.

The big downer for the Patriots: kickoff coverage. In addition to the opening 94-yard kickoff return to set up the opening field goal, there was a 35-yard return by Manning near the end of the second quarter, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski was penalized 15 yards for a horse-collar tackle at the end of it. That 50 yards set up Arian Foster’s short touchdown run.

The Patriots get the ball to start the second half.