Quick-hit thoughts from third quarter

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As they enter the fourth quarter, the Patriots have seized control and lead the Broncos 31-14. Passing along notes and observations from the third quarter:

1. McCourty, White leave game; cornerback returns. Starting cornerback and kickoff returner Devin McCourty may have suffered an injury on the opening return of the half, as he did not join his defensive teammates as they took the field for their opening drive. He later returned to the game. Meanwhile, linebacker Tracy White, a starter in the place of rookie Dont'a Hightower, left the field and headed to the locker room with a foot injury. The team announced his return as questionable.

2. Brady plunges in for the score. The Patriots were methodical in driving the football down the field during their second offensive series, capped off by a Tom Brady sneak for a score. A play of note included a long conversion on a third down by running back Danny Woodhead, after the team was backed up due to a hold on center Ryan Wendell. Perhaps most importantly, the drive kept the Patriots' defense fresh and Peyton Manning where he cannot hurt you: on the sideline.

3. Ninkovich sacks, forces fumble of Manning. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich recorded his second sack in as many weeks, forcing a fumble of Manning along the way. The Patriots made quick work on the ensuing drive, with Stevan Ridley sweeping left for an 8-yard score. Ninkovich ranks among the more underappreciated players on the Patriots' roster, with solid overall versatility and dependability.

4. Ground game effective, again. A week after totaling nearly 250 yards on the ground, the Patriots are at it again, with 39 carries for 191 yards thus far. Offensive balance was a theme discussed throughout the week, and it's once again come in to play. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Patriots have rushed for three-plus touchdowns in consecutive games for the first time since 1978.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were called for penalties during the third quarter: center Ryan Wendell (holding), offensive tackle Nate Solder (false start), tight end Rob Gronkowski (offensive pass interference).