"You work on one thing all week and you get something different."
- Wes Welker in the aftermath of Sunday’s loss to the Jets
In retrospect, maybe Wes Welker was merely playing a game of tit-for-tat. Maybe, in the wake of a questionable benching for verbally tweaking New York Jets coach Rex Ryan in the days leading up to Sunday’s divisional playoff game, Welker learned his lesson. Maybe he subsequently decided to tweak his own coach instead.
In the grand scheme of things, Welker’s benching had relatively little to do with the Patriots’ season-ending 28-21 loss to the hated Jets on Sunday, though that is hardly the point. The question is whether the punishment fit the crime. The question is whether the Patriots have grown a little too smug for their own good. The question is whether the Patriots placed more emphasis on perpetuating their image than they did actually protecting their values with a player who has been a model teammate during his time in Foxborough.
And so, just as Randy Moss publicly questioned the game plan following the Patriots’ loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII, Welker seemed to wonder whether the Patriots were adequately prepared in the wake of Sunday’s ground-shaking loss to the Jets.
On this one, as is often the case, it is best to start at the beginning.
Last week, amid incessant trash talking by the Jets, Welker made a series of clever foot references during a press conference with reporters, clearly taking playful jabs at Rex Ryan’s alleged foot fetish. In the following days, Jets linebacker Bart Scott suggested that Welker’s days in uniform "will be numbered" and Jets center Nick Mangold fired off a tweet that included the words "spy" and "gate." And then, just before kickoff on Sunday, CBS broadcasters Jim Nantz and Phil Simms (formerly a member of the Giants organization for whom Bill Belichick also worked) revealed that Welker would be benched for the start of Sunday’s game as the result of his remarks.
Yesterday, Simms said that CBS stumbled upon the story by overhearing a conversation on the sideline before the game. CBS checked out the rumor, Simms said, then went with it on the air.
Of course, despite the "benching," Welker was back to field a punt inside the Patriots’ 20 less than three minutes into the game, the very first opportunity he had to be on the field. Suddenly, it was as if the Patriots decided that the benching was not nearly as important as protecting the football deep inside their own territory, so they gave the sure-handed wide receiver a stay of execution until they safely had possession of the ball.
And then they sat him again, albeit for one possession.
Sorry, folks, but the Patriots can’t have it both ways on this one. On the one hand, the Patriots want to tell the entire nation that they are not like the loudmouthed Jets, that their players are accountable for what they do and say. On other, they want to protect the football inside their own 20. Anyone who believes that CBS garnered the information by overhearing a conversation on the Patriots sideline before the game is either terribly naïve, or a Patriots yahoo, the two of which are not mutually exclusive.
Seriously. Even if CBS did overhear a conversation on the sideline, did the Patriots have to confirm it? Couldn’t they have played dumb like they always do? Couldn’t they have ignored the request altogether?
And while we’re on the topic, since when does any reporter offer up an explanation for how he stumbled upon a piece of information? Where CBS got the story is nobody’s business. The fact that Simms would later explain how he came upon the information reeks of a cover-up.
Fact: The Patriots wanted the best of both worlds here. They wanted to win the game and show all of America they were not like the Jets, who are allowed to profanely insult members of the other team (let alone Hall of Fame quarterbacks) and suffer no consequences. This is New England. We do it right here. And we win.
Blah, blah, blah.
What a load of manure.
Now, with regard to whether the penalty fit the crime, that too is open to debate. What Welker said after the game was more damaging to Belichick than what he said before. Privately, the Pats could have fined him and been done with it. Instead, they made a public spectacle of the affair in the interest of promoting the Patriot Way. Winning the game wasn’t enough. The Pats had to emphasize how they win, too.
As it turned out, the Pats lost on all fronts. Following the game, Vince Wilfork came out and said he did not agree with the decision on Welker. Welker openly questioned whether the Pats were adequately prepared. Until the final two minutes of the third quarter, Welker and Deion Branch had combined for one reception and 10 yards, all of those coming on a quick out to Welker shortly after he joined the offense in the huddle.
After that, the Pats’ wide receivers enjoyed a continental breakfast. Donuts for Welker. Bagels for Branch.
During his career with the Patriots, Welker has been the consummate Patriot. This season, despite coming off major knee surgery and sitting out the season finale, he finished eighth in the NFL with 86 receptions. Since arriving here in 2007, he has caught more passes (432) than any player in the NFL. He has returned punts. He has generally kept his mouth shut. And unlike Randy Moss, he continued to play and walk the line despite the absence of a contract extension he richly deserves.
For all of that, and for a few playful foot references, Welker was a made an example of for the benefit of the Patriot Way.
Couldn’t the Pats have handled this whole thing just a little bit differently?
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