Picked-up pieces from the second quarter of the Patriots' 34-31 win over the Texans:
1. It is often mentioned that bigger Patriots linebackers Dont'a Hightower (6-3, 268) and Brandon Spikes (6-2, 255) aren't necessarily at their best when in pass coverage but the first play of the second quarter showed they are still effective in the role at times. Both were dropped back at the snap as the Patriots had a four-man rush (nice twist inside by Rob Ninkovich) and Spikes got his hands up to bat down a pass intended for open tight end Garrett Graham. Hightower delivered a hit on Graham after the tip. It doesn't always look great, but on that play, they got the job done.
2. Sometimes you just tip your cap to the opposition, and such was the case on the Texans' conversion on third-and-6 with 14:55 remaining in the quarter. Jamie Collins blitzed up the middle and was basically untouched (center Chris Myers was no match) to hurry quarterback Case Keenum, and he made an on-the-money throw to DeAndre Hopkins (covered competitively by cornerback Logan Ryan) on a crossing route. Can't really fault the defense on that one; more good offensive execution. Although he didn't “win” on that play, Ryan turned in a solid effort overall in an expanded role as he was No. 2 on the depth chart with Alfonzo Dennard inactive with a knee injury.
3. Safety Steve Gregory's return in limited action served as a reminder that he might be underappreciated when it comes to filling the hole in the running game (14:19 remaining). He had a similar play in the first quarter. He might be undersized at 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, but he's not afraid to throw his body in there. In turn, rookie safety Duron Harmon didn't seem to be as clean in the tackling department as he had been the last two weeks.
4. One thought during the game, “why are they playing so much zone,” was repeated after watching the second quarter. Keshawn Martin's 27-yard completion on a busted coverage (13:03 remaining) which had Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington playing the short route, made us wonder again why the Patriots felt that was the best way to go against the Texans in the first half.
5. Credit an assist to cornerback Aqib Talib on nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga's sack (12:27 remaining). That's a tough cover, with Andre Johnson crossing the field from left to right, but Talib undercut him to take away the high percentage throw and force Case Keenum to hold on to the ball longer.
6. Defensive end Andre Carter's playing time has been down the ast two games, but his second effort to disengage against a top left tackle in Duane Brown -- coupled with another strong Rob Ninkovich rush and good initial coverage -- created the disruption on Case Keenum's interception. Carter, in his 13th season, can still get after it.
7. In a play that foreshadowed what was to come in the third quarter on the goal-line, the Patriots handed off to fullback on third-and-1 (8:24 remaining) and Develin churned out 3 yards. It was Develin's first carry of the season, as that was a new wrinkle in the game-plan.
8. It's worth relaying CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf's comments from the broadcast as it relates to Stevan Ridley's inactive status and general ball-security issues: “It's been a while since I've seen Bill the way he was when we visited with him -- his intolerance has reached the boiling point when it comes to turnovers.”
9. The Patriots had a well-timed screen set up that could have went for big yardage (7:39 remaining) but left guard just missed on his block of linebacker Joe Mays. If Mankins makes that block, Vereen had a lot of real estate in front of him. You could almost see after the play that he was kicking himself.
10. Overall, just poor tackling by the Patriots' defense, with one example coming with nose tackle Sealver Siliga -- in his debut -- failing to wrap up running back Dennis Johnson on a 9-yard gain (2:54 remaining). Siliga did well to defeat his blocker but couldn't finish off the play. Maybe some rust there to shake off for Siliga, who hadn't played in a game since the preseason.
11. Wouldn't be surprised to see left guard Logan Mankins show up on the injury report (ankle). It looked like he got his right ankle landed upon by quarterback Tom Brady (:46 remaining) as he got up slowly. Mankins shook it off (no surprise there, he once played with a torn ACL) and finished the game. Perhaps he stays off it this week in practice.