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Tom Brady's success in vertical passing game has been off the charts

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NFL Live is unanimous on Patriots over Panthers (0:50)

The NFL Live crew unanimously picks the Patriots because of the Panthers' struggling offense. (0:50)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Here are some quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and the NFL:

1. If there is one word to describe the Patriots’ offense through three games, “vertical” is the best choice.

Three games is a small sample, but quarterback Tom Brady is averaging more than 9 yards per pass attempt and more than 10 air yards per attempt (meaning average length of throws past the line of scrimmage).

Since downfield throws were first tracked by ESPN Stats & Information in 2006, no quarterback has done that in a season. As the accompanying chart shows, no other quarterback is close to Brady this season at this early juncture.

I brought a printout of the chart into the Patriots’ locker room late last week and showed it to some players. Wide receiver Chris Hogan, for one, studied it and said he wasn’t surprised.

“We have a lot of guys with speed,” he said. “Brandin [Cooks], obviously, being a No. 1 prospect coming in here. He’s a vertical threat, and guys have to respect that. I think we’ve been able to make plays down the field this year, which is something we’ve been working on since the offseason and stressed it a lot in training camp.”

The vertical passing game has put more stress on the offensive line at times and might explain, in part, why sack numbers are up (10) and Brady is taking more hits (19).

“There are a lot of things that go into this,” Hogan said of the vertical attack. “Tom is getting enough time to let us get down the field, we’re calling good plays and guys are getting open down the field. We’re taking advantage of those opportunities and making big plays. Those deep passes are game-changers.”

2. Those close to wide receiver Julian Edelman relay that he underwent surgery within the past week to repair his torn right ACL, with the procedure coming a little more than four weeks after he sustained the injury in a preseason game in Detroit. Edelman is said to be in good spirits, and the general feeling was that everything went as planned.

3. When Brady was describing his game-winning touchdown pass to Cooks after Sunday’s win, he referred to the receiver by his nickname, “Cookie.” The origins of it run deep. “Pop Warner. One coach said it, and then it went to my teammates,” Cooks said. “It’s been following me for a long time. It’s from childhood, so it gives me good memories.” As for the obvious follow-up, Cooks doesn’t eat cookies. “Haven’t had one for a really long time. I’m on a special diet,” he said with a laugh. “I want to, but all I can do is look at them right now.”

4. This will be a different week for the Patriots, as they have the quick turnaround after Sunday’s game against the Panthers to face the Buccaneers on Thursday in Tampa. Besides Thanksgiving -- when the Patriots visited the Lions in 2002 and 2010 -- they haven’t played a Thursday road game since 1990. Those were the days (not really). The Patriots finished 1-15 that season under head coach Rod Rust, and one of the losses came in a Thursday road game against Dan Marino and the Dolphins. But it wasn’t a quick turnaround from the prior week because the Patriots had been coming off their bye.

5a. Did You Know, Part I: Thursday will be Brady’s first regular-season game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, a result of the 2009 meeting between the teams being played in London (that was a Buccaneers “home” game). But it won’t be Brady's first time playing there, as the Patriots visited the Buccaneers in the preseason in 2001, 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012.

5b. Did You Know, Part II: With a win Sunday, Brady would tie Brett Favre and Peyton Manning for most regular-season wins in a quarterback’s career, with 186. Brady already owns the all-time record when factoring in the playoffs, with 210 wins.

5c. Did You Know, Part III: Tight end Rob Gronkowski has 6,258 receiving yards from Brady and needs 43 more to move past Wes Welker (6,300) for the most receiving yards ever from Brady.

5d. Did You Know, Part IV: The Patriots are an NFL-best 53-17 in October since 2000.

6. The Patriots had almost 50 free agents in for workouts during the month of September, which is standard operating procedure for the team to keep emergency lists updated and to compare the talent on the current roster and practice squad to what is available on the market. One longtime agent who represents a prospect who was among the 50 complimented Nancy Meier, the team’s director of scouting administration, for her work in arranging the logistics for those workouts -- and even said she is worthy of the Patriots Hall of Fame. Meier, who, among other duties, coordinates all logistics for Patriots scouts, free-agent signings, draft picks and tryouts, is truly one of the unsung, under-the-radar staffers. She is in her 43rd season with the club and is the longest-tenured full-time employee on staff.

7. One of the underplayed stories from Sunday’s win over the Texans was how Patriots players didn’t wilt in the unseasonably warm and humid temperatures, though Gronkowski said late this week that he was having trouble breathing. One point I hadn’t considered until listening to Bill Belichick on "Patriots All-Access" was that the team had a relatively humid-free training camp. Thus, they never had the chance to work in those types of conditions. How they responded to that is a credit to the players.

8. It is rare that the Patriots have players who are inactive due to injury on the sideline during games, but it was hard to miss special-teams captain Matthew Slater on the sideline Sunday against the Texans. He’s the type of veteran presence and emotional/spiritual leader that is an obvious choice to remain on the field while most others watch from a box or at home. He was in the line of players locking arms during last week’s national anthem, along with Brady, Phillip Dorsett, David Harris, Dwayne Allen and Cassius Marsh.

9. Patriots cornerback Eric Rowe's playing time bears watching this season, because if he plays more than 50 percent of the defensive snaps, the Patriots will ship their 2018 third-round pick to Philadelphia as part of the trade from September 2016. If Rowe's play comes in at fewer than 50 percent of snaps, the Patriots will give up a fourth-rounder. After Rowe was inactive Sunday with a groin injury, he has played 70 of 204 defensive snaps (34.3 percent).

10. Hope to finish early enough Sunday to watch former Patriots quarterback Jacoby Brissett lead the Colts in prime-time action at the Seahawks. A road night game in Seattle, for my money, is the toughest venue/environment in the NFL. Brissett’s leadership and toughness were on full display in his one-plus seasons in New England, and it was easy to see why he quickly earned teammates’ respect. He also had a sense of humor. One day, we were driving down Route 1 toward Gillette Stadium at the same time -- one of us in a family minivan, the other in a sports utility vehicle -- and afterward he ribbed me about what he deemed to be road rage. Never in the minivan, Jacoby. No way.