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Quick-hit thoughts after 3rd quarter

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts after the third quarter of the Patriots’ game against the Cowboys (score tied at 13):

1. This is a grind-it-out game. Not pretty, but you don’t focus on style points, just trying to get out with the win.

2. The Patriots offense has struggled, while the defense -- after starting the game fast -- was on its heels early in the quarter and looked soft in coverage. When the offense looked like it had generated some momentum, playing fast, a lost fumble by Aaron Hernandez ended the drive. It was not a good quarter for the team.

3. Big rush by Andre Carter on second-and-7 to sack Tony Romo, beating rookie Tyron Smith. That set up third-and-18 and ultimately contributed to the Patriots holding the Cowboys to a field goal. Haven’t seen that type of pass rush around here often of late. The Patriots were reeling at the time and Carter delivered. Right now, the sack could be a key turning point in the game.

4. A penalty against Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer for running into punter Zoltan Mesko extended the Patriots’ second drive of the quarter. Mesko sold it well, but the Patriots couldn’t take advantage.

5. Looked like Tom Brady's helmet communication might have been malfunctioning. He has either been going over to the sideline to get the play, then looking at his wristband, or looking to a whiteboard on the sideline.

6. No excuses for the Patriots’ 12-men-on-the-field penalty. The extra player, cornerback Leigh Bodden, was lined up right in front of the team’s bench. Should have been spotted by the coaching staff.

7. The Patriots’ streak of scoring 30 or more points in the regular season -- currently at 13 games -- is in jeopardy. The last time they didn’t score at least 30 in a regular-season game was last October in Cleveland. The Browns’ defense was coordinated by Rob Ryan, who is in his first year as Dallas’ defensive coordinator.

8. For the second week in a row, no Dane Fletcher at linebacker for the Patriots outside of the goal-line package. It’s been all Brandon Spikes, Gary Guyton and Rob Ninkovich at linebacker outside of the goal line.