<
>

Quick-hit thoughts from the first quarter

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After 15 minutes of play, the Patriots lead the Texans 7-3. Passing along quick-hit thoughts from the first quarter.

1. Big kickoff return allowed to start. The Patriots special teams have been a strength of the team this season, particularly the coverage units. But the Texans returned the opening kickoff of today's game 94 yards to set them up at the 12-yard line of the Patriots. That's 32 yards longer than any other kickoff return allowed by the team this season, and it allowed Houston to open the scoring with a field goal. The Patriots defense did well to prevent an early touchdown. Credit Devin McCourty for the touchdown-saving tackle on the kickoff.

2. Starters in place. The Patriots started off the game as healthy as they've been all season, and that was reflected in their starting lineup. The offense featured tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, while on defense the secondary was made up of Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard at cornerback, with Devin McCourty alongside Steve Gregory at safety. But ...

3. Gronk, Woodhead banged up. The Patriots have a couple of injury issues on the offensive side of the ball that could become major concerns. Tight end Rob Gronkowski left the game with an arm injury and is questionable to return, while running back Danny Woodhead is also questionable to return after suffering a left thumb injury. Both players were escorted by members of the team's medical staff to the locker room, where it's possible they are undergoing x-ray examinations.

4. Talib matching Johnson. Just as the Patriots opted to do back in Week 14, cornreback Aqib Talib has been used early in the game to shadow Andre Johnson, the Texans best receiver by a wide margin. That's yet another testament to the confidence the Patriots have in Talib's man-to-man coverage ability, and a sign that he is close to full health after dealing with a hip injury in the weeks since the first Houston game. So far, Johnson has two catches.

5. Vereen finds the end zone. Running back Shane Vereen found the end zone for a late first quarter score, capping off an impressive drive that featured solid play from fellow running back Stevan Ridley. The Patriots have used both Ridley and Vereen in Woodhead's absence, as the veteran Woodhead actually started the game.

6. Penalty box. No Patriots were flagged for penalties in the first quarter.