Patriots took unique, hands-off scouting approach with top rookie

Cruz: Patriots' defense too difficult for Prescott to overcome (1:25)

Victor Cruz and Rob Ninkovich agree the Patriots' defense will cause too much trouble for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. (1:25)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Patriots stayed away on scouting trail: Punter Jake Bailey has been the Patriots' top rookie through 10 games, leading the AFC in fan Pro Bowl voting and coming off his second straight AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honor.

The Patriots obviously knew what they were doing when they traded up in the fifth round to select Bailey, a decision strategically made with a unique approach: They never privately worked him out, never interviewed him and made it a point to distance themselves from him for fear that other clubs would learn of their interest. The Patriots felt comfortable taking this approach, in part, because Bailey had an impeccable reputation.

They did something similar with Utah's Mitch Wishnowsky, whom the San Francisco 49ers selected in the fourth round and who was New England's other top-rated punter.

Bailey, who has punted a league-high 56 times while posting a 45-yard average and a 42.6-yard net, with two touchbacks and 27 punts inside the 20, said he worked out for a few teams before the draft. The Stanford alum also punted at the combine but confirmed he had no contact with New England whatsoever.

"I went into that day with an open mind," he said. "At that position, you can have five guys drafted or none drafted."

The Patriots have taken steps in the past to mask interest in prospects, such as canceling an in-stadium visit with offensive lineman Nate Solder before the 2011 draft. But the extremes they went to with Bailey, moving up to select him 163rd overall, were at a different level -- aided in part by the unique nature of the position itself.

2. Only third Cowboys visit of Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era: Sunday's Cowboys-Patriots game marks the third time Dallas has visited Foxborough in the Belichick/Brady era (since 2000). The last time it happened, Oct. 16, 2011, saw Brady lead an 80-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter, culminating in an 8-yard touchdown strike to tight end Aaron Hernandez to secure a 20-16 victory.

The first time, Nov. 16, 2003, was epic because it was a Belichick vs. Bill Parcells matchup -- the first time they faced each other since Belichick bolted from under the Tuna's shadow as "HC of the NYJ." Relations between them weren't as warm as they are now, and I vividly remember watching Parcells standing at midfield during pregame warm-ups with Belichick nearby but deciding to keep his distance. The Patriots won 12-0, and the first connection between the coaches came after the game with an awkward embrace. The victory raised Belichick's career head-coaching record to .500 at the time, and it has only gone up from there. Way up.

3. What Belichick values in picking All-100 team: Belichick's love of football and its history was on display Friday night, as he joined Rich Eisen and Cris Collinsworth on NFL Network to unveil the 12 running backs selected to the NFL All-100 team. It was the first of six NFL Films-produced shows Belichick will be part of, as he also was a member of the blue-ribbon panel that selected the All-100 team.

The main thing I took away from the program was what Belichick values most when he considers the greatest players in the game -- those who could play in any era. The game has evolved over time, and Belichick noted the challenge in comparing players from different eras. Specific to running backs, Belichick touched on the word "versatility" more than once, especially when highlighting some older-era players among the top 12, such as Lenny Moore and Dutch Clark.

4. Winovich buys his mother a new car: Rookie outside linebacker Chase Winovich bought his mother, Nina, a new car last week, relaying that he proudly paid for the Mazda Miata (Grand Touring edition) with cash from the signing bonus of his first pro contract.

"When I was at school at Michigan, she would always come up and visit, and she loves listening to audio books. But the car radio broke and it was really expensive to get it fixed. She never did, and for years now, I've been planning on getting her a car," he said. "It was really special for me. She had no idea. Just to see her face, and her crying, that was pure joy."

Winovich said he wanted it to be a convertible, bringing back memories of a family car from the 2000s, and he had one other requirement: "I wanted every feature. That sucker had to be decked out."

5. White on cusp of joining impressive company: Patriots veteran James White enters Sunday's game with 296 career receptions, and if he catches four passes, he'll become the sixth-fastest running back in NFL history to reach 300 -- doing it in 73 games. Le'Veon Bell (60 games), Reggie Bush (61), Roger Craig (65), LaDainian Tomlinson (67) and James Wilder (68) top the list, which puts White in a special class. "That's pretty cool, and good company to be in, some really talented guys," he said. "Running backs are becoming more and more versatile each and every year."

6. TAPS Fallen Heroes honored: When Patriots players arrived in the locker room on Thursday, each of them was greeted by a sheet of paper hanging in their lockers; it was a biography of a military member who died in the line of duty. Players will wear a helmet decal during Sunday's game to honor the memory of those they are playing for, with the families of those service members in attendance.

"This is our second year we've represented a fallen service member, in conjunction with the TAPS organization, which helps provide assistance to the family of those that have fallen -- and a place for them to come together, and heal, in the community of Gold Star spouses," explained long-snapper Joe Cardona, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 2015. "It's a special thing, because it gives us a chance to honor someone who has done something incredible for all of us to be able to play a game, and enjoy the lives we all live as Americans. It's a reminder to everyone watching to think about those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms."

7. Strength vs. strength: Will the Patriots primarily stay with man coverage against the Cowboys, or will they switch things up -- similar to Super Bowl LIII -- and play more zone? Here is why that is a compelling question: According to ESPN coverage metrics using NFL Next Gen Stats, the Patriots play man coverage a league-high 68% of dropbacks faced, allowing 4.9 yards per attempt (best in the NFL). But Dak Prescott and the Cowboys are averaging 9.1 yards per attempt against man coverage this season, best in the NFL.

8. Lightening the load: Belichick didn't have his team practice in full pads this week, which was a change from the norm. The team was in pads for its lone practice of the bye week, and then for one practice leading up to Sunday's win against the Eagles -- with a heavy emphasis on fundamentals. But the Patriots were banged up coming out of the Eagles game, particularly at receiver, and easing the physical burden on players was welcomed in the locker room. That's one of the many "feel" decisions coaches have to make on a weekly basis -- when to push and when to pull back.

9a. Did You Know, Part I: This is the first season in Tom Brady's 19-year career as a starter that he has thrown 20 incompletions in multiple victories.

9b. Did You Know, Part II: The Patriots have won 20 straight home games (including playoffs), which is one shy of matching the longest home winning streak in franchise history (21 straight from 2002 to 2005).

10. Unique week for Wise family: Third-year Patriots defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. will have his parents, Deatrich and Sheila, in attendance for Sunday's game against the Cowboys, and the game has some added meaning to the family because Wise's younger brother, Daniel, is a practice-squad defensive lineman for Dallas. "It would be better, obviously, if he was playing, but he told me he was playing me on the scout team," Wise said. "We talk all the time, but we actually haven't talked a lot this week."