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Patriots

Here are five thoughts on the 6-6 Patriots

In the last three games, Tyquan Thornton has been on the field for just 33.5 percent of the offensive snaps.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Five thoughts on the Patriots as they prepare to spend a week out west . . .

1. Coming out of the bye week, I advocated for the Patriots to incorporate rookie wide receiver Tyquan Thornton into the offense more. Thornton had a breakout game against the Browns in Week 6 but hadn’t maintained that level of production. I thought it would make sense for the Patriots to give Thornton more opportunities, given his initial flash and the sad state of the passing attack.

Since the bye week, however, Thornton’s snap count has decreased significantly. In the five games he played before Week 10, Thornton was on the field for 65.8 percent of the offense’s snaps. In the three games since, he has been on the field for just 33.5 percent.

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Thornton has not been on the injury report, so health is not a factor in these decisions on playing time. Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, DeVante Parker, and Kendrick Bourne are ahead of him on the depth chart — and the Patriots rank 25th in passing attempts per game — so targets can be hard to come by. But you would expect a second-round pick to be featured more.

It’s hard to judge Thornton off production, given the continuing struggles of New England’s offense. And, according to wide receivers coach Troy Brown, Thornton has contributed and progressed in ways that aren’t reflected in statistics.

Can the Patriots be doing more to incorporate Thornton into the passing game?Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

“He’s a pretty talented player,” Brown said Monday. “A lot of times you don’t have to catch a lot of passes to be involved in the game. Just your presence alone sometimes could help our team. Tyquan, his development so far in his first year, obviously it’s a little bit rocky with the [preseason collarbone] injury, but he’s coming along, like most of the other rookies in the league.”

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Coach Bill Belichick echoed Brown.

“For several weeks now, [Thornton’s] been out there on a regular basis, practicing every day, playing,” Belichick said Wednesday. “Taking the box score out of it, just in terms of assignments, execution, adjustments, playing multiple positions, based on the formation and things like that — all those have been progress for him. The more he can be out there, the more he can have the opportunity to play and learn and get experience and improve.”

Brown and Belichick are right. Not all indicators of success fill up the stat sheet. Missing an extended period as a rookie can be challenging. But a receiver drafted in the second round should be expected to gain yardage. Look at the Steelers’ George Pickens and the Colts’ Alec Pierce, both drafted soon after Thornton.

It’s far too early to make any grand proclamations about Thornton’s abilities or future, but it’s also hard to ignore his limited role.

The Patriots’ poor offensive performance under coaches Matt Patricia and Joe Judge has generated questions about the development of quarterback Mac Jones — and similar questions could extend to Thornton, as well. Perhaps Thornton will beef up this offseason, the Patriots’ offense will reset, and he’ll be in store for a breakout sophomore season. For now, though, his lack of involvement is not promising.

2. The Patriots-Raiders game, initially slated for “Sunday Night Football” in Week 15, will no longer be played in prime time, which might end up being a good thing for the Patriots. New England is 0-5 in its last five prime-time games, with losses last season to Indianapolis (27-17) and Buffalo (47-17), and this season to Chicago (33-14), Minnesota (33-26), and Buffalo (24-10). For a team desperate to score more than one offensive touchdown per game, even the bright lights of a national stage cannot supply enough extra motivation.

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3. As the Patriots continue to flounder, I still find it hard to believe there is a world where Belichick doesn’t return as head coach. He is 20 wins behind Don Shula in his chase to become the winningest NFL coach of all time, an honor that he likely cares about deeply even if he won’t acknowledge it. In a best-case scenario, Belichick could reach the mark during the 2024 season. Perhaps then, he’ll decide to retire at 72 years old.

Belichick is now just 20 wins behind Don Shula.Associated Press

4. Kendrick Bourne may be in trouble for saying the Patriots need to “scheme up” better plays on third down, but he’s right. One of my biggest gripes with the play-calling is the fact that the Patriots seem to rarely throw the ball past the first-down marker on third downs. In their past two games, the Patriots are a combined 6 of 22 on third down (27.3 percent). On the season, they’ve converted just 36.2 percent of their third-down plays. Relatedly, Jones ranks 29th in percentage of throws to the sticks or beyond. Why not at least give the offense a chance by calling a play beyond the sticks? I don’t claim to know more about football than an NFL coach, but the number of third-down throws well short of the sticks is baffling.

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5. The Patriots could be getting defensive tackle Christian Barmore back soon, which would be a welcomed boost. Barmore, who was placed on injured reserve in November, is eligible to be activated for Week 15. According to Belichick, Barmore is “working hard” and “making good progress.”


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