FOXBOROUGH — Wes Welker certainly has quieted talk about his role in the offense the last two weeks, once again becoming Tom Brady’s favorite target and helping the Patriots move the ball with an assortment of quick-route, short-yardage gains.
Welker caught a season-high 13 passes for 104 yards Sunday, and opened the scoring with an 8-yard touchdown reception from Brady in the first quarter.
“I think every week you kind of go into it trying to understand your opponent and know who you’re going against and try to attack it the best you can and win at all costs,” Welker said. “There were a few times where I didn’t get open, but for the most part I feel like I got open a lot and was able to make some plays.”
The 13 catches are the most by Welker in a game since he caught 16 at Buffalo last season in Week 3. It marked Welker’s 99th straight game with at least one reception.
Welker raised eyebrows when he appeared on Comcast SportsNet New England’s postgame show and was asked about catching so many passes a month after getting three in the opener against the Titans.
“Yeah, it’s kind of nice to stick it in Bill’s face once in a while, so this is definitely a good one,” Welker said in reference to coach Bill Belichick.
Third was charmed
The Patriots had their best game of the season when it comes to third-down conversions, going 11 for 17.
Four of the conversions came on third and long (needing at least 10 yards), including two big plays to Danny Woodhead: a third-and-14 in the second quarter (25-yard pass from Brady), and a third-and-17 in the third quarter (19-yard run). The Patriots scored 10 points on those drives.
“Two huge plays,” Brady said. “The call came in and [offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels] said, ‘I think we can get this.’ Third and 17, that was huge,” Brady said. “It ended up being a touchdown drive, too.”
Miller a factor
Broncos defensive end Von Miller had a big game with seven tackles, five of which came in the Patriots backfield, and two sacks.
“It was a tough game, we put ourselves on the spot,’’ Miller said. “Spots where you can’t come back against a good team like them. When you dig holes like we’ve been doing the last couple of weeks, we can’t expect to win games.’’
Willis McGahee had two crucial plays that hurt the Broncos. He dropped a pass on fourth and 1 at the Patriots’ 47 early in the fourth quarter, then fumbled at the Patriots’ 11 later in the quarter.
“That probably changed the game for us when I dropped the ball,’’ he said.
Hurt or not?
The NFL is investigating whether the Bills have not properly disclosed an injury, a development that has unconnected Patriots implications because of the knee injury suffered in last season’s opener by guard Logan Mankins.
Buffalo defensive lineman Mario Williams, who signed a six-year contract in the offseason that could be worth $100 million, has publicly stated that his wrist has bothered him, yet he has never been listed by the Bills on any of their injury reports. Williams hasn’t missed any games, and the Bills say he has not missed any practices.
“The club says he is not injured,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. “We will follow up this week to obtain a formal explanation.”
Mankins was injured in last season’s opener against Miami, and played the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He was never listed by the Patriots on the injury reports, but told the league that he never reported his injury to the team.
Hernandez out again
Despite practicing two days last week, tight end Aaron Hernandez was one of seven players on the inactive list, his third straight game missed with the ankle injury he suffered Sept. 16 in the home opener. He was joined by linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who missed the first game of his rookie season with a hamstring injury. The other Patriots inactives: receiver Julian Edelman, safety Steve Gregory, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, offensive lineman Matt Tennant, and defensive end Jake Bequette. A pair of rookies — cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and defensive tackle Justin Francis — were active for the first time. Dennard broke up a third-down pass in the second quarter. Francis didn’t play, one of only two Patriots (backup quarterback Ryan Mallett the other) who didn’t get in . . . Brady has thrown a touchdown pass in 37 consecutive games, the third-best streak in NFL history. Drew Brees broke the record Sunday night with his 48th straight game, one more than Johnny Unitas . . . Cornerback Devin McCourty left the field after returning the second-half kickoff but returned to the game. Linebacker Tracy White suffered a foot injury and did not return. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (knee) and Mankins (calf) also were forced out with injuries.