He would almost assuredly trade every single catch for a postseason berth, but Wes Welker will have to settle for what is undoubtedly one of the greatest single-season performances by a wide receiver in Patriots history.
Welker finished the season with 111 catches, second in the NFL to Houston’s Andre Johnson, who had 115. And if not for the severe winds in Orchard Park, N.Y., last Sunday, he likely would have surpassed his own team record of 112, set in 2007.
“You have to do what you have to do in any particular situation,” said Welker after the 13-0 victory over the Bills. “The game was what it was, and you had to make sure that you were going out and doing your job each and every play, whether it is blocking or going out for passes or whatever it is.”
Although the whipping winds all but eliminated the passing game from New England’s offensive arsenal against Buffalo, the 5-foot-9 receiver still managed to contribute just as much as he has all season.
His two catches for 26 yards certainly don’t seem like much, but in the run-oriented contest he accounted for 33 percent of the team’s six receptions. Welker was responsible for roughly a third of the Patriots’ catches this season, hauling in 111 of 339.
Even though the two receptions were a season low, he continued to do what he’s done all season — make catches in critical situations. Facing a fourth-and-5 late in the third quarter from the Buffalo 14-yard line and leading just 3-0, the Patriots didn’t have the option of a field-goal try because of the wind. Matt Cassel hit Welker for a 12-yard reception, and the Patriots punched it in on the next play for the game’s only touchdown. Welker’s other catch was a 14-yard connection on third-and-7 early in the fourth.
After the Pats lost Tom Brady for the season, Welker became even more valuable as Cassel’s security blanket on short passes.
Welker caught six or more passes in each of the season’s first 11 games, becoming the first NFL player to open the season with such a streak. He had at least six catches in all but two games this season, with three 100-yard receiving games and three touchdowns. Of his 1,165 yards, more than half came after catches. He led the NFL with over 750 YAC.
In just two seasons, Welker has moved into the franchise’s top 10 all-time career receptions list at No. 10 with 223.
“Wes is always impressive. He is a good receiver,” said coach Bill Belichick. “He’s a competitive guy, a smart guy, quick, good hands, good concentration, and is tough. He does a lot of things well.”
The Patriots have certainly gotten more than they could’ve hoped from Welker after acquiring him from the Dolphins for a second-round pick in 2007. His 112 catches last year set an NFL record for receptions by a player in his first season with a new team.
And even without Brady, Welker repeated his performance this season and was rewarded with his first career Pro Bowl selection.
“It means a lot,” said Welker of being picked to play in the Pro Bowl. “I didn’t ever think it would come true but I’m definitely very excited and very humbled by it.”
Randy Moss and Welker have created the perfect inside-outside combination. While Moss gets much of the glory — he set an NFL record with 23 TD catches last season and had 11 more scores this year — Welker has been doing the grunt work. The diminutive 27-year-old is fearless going over the middle, taking jaw-shattering hits, and bouncing back while barely missing a single play.
“I would never question his toughness,” said Belichick.
The understated Welker did break from character once this season, mimicking his flamboyant wide receiver brethren when he celebrated a touchdown against Arizona in Week 16 by doing a “snow angel” routine. After receiving a $10,000 fine, Welker said he won’t be creating any more snow angels.
Whether Brady or Cassel delivers the football next season, Welker will again be trying to cement his name in the record books. A third consecutive 100-catch season would make him one of just four players in NFL history to accomplish that feat.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots for OT and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports