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Tyquan Thornton’s promise not equal to his production for Patriots

Tyquan Thornton's two-touchdown game against Cleveland has easily been the high point of his season thus far.Ron Schwane/Associated Press

Some thoughts on the Patriots as they enter a defining stretch of their season . . .

1. Given the heightened attention on New England’s draft picks, what would constitute a successful season for rookie wide receiver Tyquan Thornton?

Thornton, selected in the second round this year, began the season on injured reserve with a broken clavicle, but has since returned to log significant playing time. After making his NFL debut in Week 5, Thornton has been on the field for 71 percent of the offense’s snaps.

Outside of his breakout two-touchdown game against Cleveland, however, Thornton’s production hasn’t popped.

Over the Patriots’ last three games, he’s caught just three passes on 11 targets for 37 yards. Even though it’s difficult to evaluate his performance because of the team’s larger offensive struggles, the coaching staff should aim to involve Thornton more.

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There are plenty of ways to get Thornton the ball, whether it be using him on a deep vertical route, out of the slot, or on designed runs. Jakobi Meyers has been the only consistent contributor in New England’s wide receiver room this year, so it would seem shrewd to see if Thornton can step up into a larger role.

Thornton has flashed promise, dating to training camp. The second half of the regular season represents an opportunity for him to not only help revive the floundering passing attack but also set a strong foundation for the future.

2. Speaking of Meyers, the 26-year-old wide receiver is setting himself up for a nice payday. Once an undrafted rookie at the bottom of the depth chart, Meyers has emerged as a reliable, productive target.

When he was a restricted free agent during the most recent offseason, Meyers wasn’t shy with expressing how much he wanted to stay in New England. He ended up signing his second-round tender, a one-year contract with $3.986 million. That salary is a steal, as Meyers leads the team in receptions (40) as well as receiving yards (457) and touchdowns (3).

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The Patriots are going to have to pay Meyers much more if they want to keep him around beyond 2022. Meyers, set to become an unrestricted free agent, would likely command $8 million-$10 million per year. It’s possible he might take a hometown discount, but who would blame him for chasing the money?

Even if his market is closer to $10 million annually, the Patriots shouldn’t hesitate to compensate Meyers accordingly. Nelson Agholor is set to become a free agent, DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne are under contract through 2023, and Thornton’s rookie deal expires at the end of 2025. Paying Meyers and continuing to build around him is a no-brainer.

3. The Patriots placed punter Jake Bailey on injured reserve Saturday, which means he will miss at least the team’s next four games.

Sunday will mark the first game Bailey has missed in his three-year NFL career. He was initially listed as doubtful because of a back injury. Bailey practiced in a limited capacity Wednesday and Thursday before not participating Friday.

Practice squad punter Michael Palardy will get the nod in Bailey’s place. Palardy, 30, joined the team earlier this month.

Bailey’s stint on injured reserve is the latest news in a disappointing season for the 2020 All-Pro. The back issue, which first popped up on the injury report this week, may help explain his poor performance this year, as Bailey ranked at the bottom of the league in net punting average and hang time.

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The Patriots and Bailey agreed to a four-year, $13.5 million extension in August, so the team is certainly hoping he can eventually return to form. Otherwise, his 2022 salary-cap number of $4.05 million, the second-highest figure of any punter in the league, will not age well.

On Friday, the Patriots also placed defensive tackle Christian Barmore on injured reserve. Barmore hasn’t played since Week 6 because of a knee injury, but must have suffered a setback because the team did not initially place him on injured reserve. His absence will be a major loss to New England’s front seven and pass rush.

All things considered, however, the Patriots find themselves in good shape headed into this stretch run.

Coming out of the bye week, only three players — Parker (knee), linebacker Anfernee Jennings (back), and linebacker Josh Uche (hamstring) — were listed as questionable. And outside of Bailey and Barmore, offensive lineman Marcus Cannon is the lone name of consequence on injured reserve.

4. FiveThirtyEight currently gives the 5-4 Patriots a 40 percent chance of making the playoffs. With a victory against the Jets this weekend, that number jumps to 53 percent. With a loss, it dips to 17 percent.

New England has the league’s third-hardest remaining strength of schedule, based on the combined winning percentage of opponents, so the road to the postseason may seem bleak. But the Patriots always preach they take one game at a time — and Sunday’s results will certainly loom large.

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Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.Follow her @nicolecyang.