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Quick-hit thoughts after 3rd quarter

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Quick-hit thoughts after the third quarter with the Patriots leading 31-17:

Brandon Tate’s 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Patriots did not have a kickoff return for a touchdown last season and special teams coach Scott O’Brien previously said that was one area in which he hoped to see improvement in 2010. Second-year receiver Brandon Tate delivered, with a burst up the middle on a 97-yard return for a touchdown to open the quarter. Explosive performance. The team’s last kickoff return for a score was Ellis Hobbs’ 95-yarder against Oakland in December of 2008.

Just five offensive plays for the Patriots. In part because of Tate’s big return, but also because of some defensive struggles, the Patriots ran just five plays on offense in the quarter (including penalties).

Holding penalty on Dan Koppen hurts. The Patriots had converted a third-down opportunity on their first offensive drive, only to have it called back on a holding penalty on center Dan Koppen. That led to a punt, the Patriots’ first of the game.

Momentum shifts to Bengals side after kickoff return. The Patriots ran into some defensive problems on the Bengals’ two drives. While still mixing their defensive looks, the Bengals seemed to figure them out as Carson Palmer developed a comfort level in the pocket that he didn’t have in the first half. Chad Ochocinco’s 28-yard touchdown catch over Darius Butler helped bring the Bengals to 31-17.

Brandon Spikes in pass coverage. On one intended pass to Terrell Owens, inside linebacker Brandon Spikes dropped nicely into the zone and deflected the pass for an incompletion. While Spikes is considered a first- and second-down player who specializes against the run, this was an example of how he can be effective in pass coverage.