Quick-hit thoughts after 2nd quarter

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Quick-hit thoughts at halftime as the Patriots lead the Bengals 24-3 in a convincing performance:

Welker’s return highlighted by 2 touchdown catches. The remarkable return of receiver Wes Welker was a story in and of itself. Add two touchdown catches to the storyline and it’s that much more impressive. Welker had a 9-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the first quarter and a 4-yard touchdown grab in the second. Welker had a 5-yard reception on the Patriots’ first play. Impressive.

Defense filled with questions coming up big. One of the things that stands out is that a defense filled with questions is playing with energy and playmaking ability. Rob Ninkovich, James Sanders and Gary Guyton have come up with big plays which speaks to a complete team effort as those players weren’t expected to be on with the first unit this season.

Gary Guyton with the INT return for 6. The reserve linebacker, who came on to the field in the nickel package in place of Brandon Spikes, delivered a 59-yard interception return for a touchdown. Nice hands and spirited run, as he had just one man to beat – Carson Palmer.

Different defensive looks utilized. The Patriots have used a 3-4 defense, a 4-2-5 nickel and a 4-1-6 dime look in the game. By mixing their defenses, as well as their personnel and where they are playing, they have kept Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer off balance. Palmer doesn't look like an elite quarterback. Every player is contributing to the cause, as Bill Belichick is rotating personnel liberally to keep players fresh.

Devin McCourty playing with confidence. The rookie cornerback was targeted by Carson Palmer late in the second quarter, and played the ball beautifully as it was intended for Terrell Owens in the back right-hand corner of the end zone. It couldn’t have been played much better than that.

Faulk shows he’s a pro. Running back Kevin Faulk had a tough opening stretch in the game, as he was the intended target on two Tom Brady passes that could have been big gains but went for incompletions. They looked like catchable balls, one of which Faulk took a big hit on after failing to catch. But the 12-year running back showed an impressive ability to bounce back with a 21-yard reception along the sidelines in the second quarter in which he was diving out of bounds and kept his toes in the field of play, which kept the drive alive and led to Wes Welker’s 4-yard touchdown catch.

Gostkowski missed 47-yard field goal. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski only had four field-goal attempts in the preseason, which wasn’t many in game-like conditions, so it makes sense to monitor how he adjusts to the team’s new snap-hold-kick operation, with punter Zoltan Mesko. He hit his first attempt in the first quarter, from 32 yards, but missed a 47-yarder early in the second quarter. Gostkowski also missed a 56-yarder at the end of the half, but that was a low-percentage try.