Wes Welker isn’t even here anymore and it’s still his fault.
There was the “drop” against the Giants in the Super Bowl. There was the drop against the Ravens in last year’s AFC Championship game. The former Patriots wide receiver was forced to sit out the opening playoff series against the Jets three years ago for his brilliant, yet ill-received comments about Rex Ryan’s foot fetish. Hell, let’s blame Welker for tearing his ACL in the final game of 2009, leaving him unavailable for the Patriots’ ugly playoff loss against the Ravens.
As it turns out, the Patriots’ loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday was also Welker’s fault, at least if you listen to the sour grape words coming from Bill Belichick. Welker’s open-field hit on Aqib Talib knocked the pivotal Patriots cornerback out of the game, a 26-16 loss at Mile High that ended New England’s otherwise valiant season, and sent Peyton Manning and the Broncos to the Super Bowl in a fortnight.
On Monday, Belichick called out his former player for the incident, proving that there is still no love lost between the head coach and man who never seemed afraid to call out Belichick when the situation warranted.
“I feel badly for Aqib, the way that play turned out,’’ Belichick said. “I went back and watched it, which I didn’t have a chance to [Sunday], it was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib.’
“I’ll let the league handle the discipline on that play. It’s not for me to decide. It was one of the worst plays I’ve seen and that’s all I’m going to say about that.’’
You can bet that’s not all he’s saying about that behind closed doors.
Convenient though that this was Welker’s doing. Just as it wasn’t his fault in the Super Bowl two years ago, it wasn’t Brady’s fault, even though the likes of Kordell Stewart could have had a more accurate day throwing the football. It certainly wasn’t the fault of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, whose questionable play-calling has put him in the crosshairs of fan angst. and has really prompted concern if he is indeed the heir-apparent to Belichick.
No, it’s Welker the headhunter.
“It was one of those plays where it’s kind of a rough play and I was trying to get him to go over the top, and I think he was thinking the same thing and wanted to come underneath and we just kind of collided,” Welker said. “It wasn’t a deal where I was trying to hit him or anything like that. I hope he’s OK, he’s a great player and a big part of their defense.”
Of course, this was also the second straight AFC title game in which Talib was knocked out due to injury. But to claim there was intent on Welker’s part to injure Talib comes off as petty, which isn’t surprising when you consider the tenacious relationship between the two. Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com probably sums up the play best with his assessment: “I think it should have been penalized,” he wrote on Monday. But do I really think Welker was intending to injure Talib? I don't.”
Neither do I.
Look, the Patriots had an unbelievable season, one in which they had to march on without Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Vince Wilfork, as well as having to possess the patience to break in a group of young wide receivers. The fact that they made it as far as they did is a testament to the talent and coaching philosophy that continues on Route One.
That doesn’t change the fact that - yet again - for a ninth straight season, a Patriots campaign ends in disappointment, a matter that would have been laughed at had you brought it up a decade ago. There’s the assumption that Brady and Belichick have one more in them, one more shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. After watching the wildly entertaining NFC Championship game Sunday night, I’m not so sure about that.
No, wise guy, Belichick hasn’t won one since the days of Spygate, but to bring that up as reason for failure is about as lazy as you can get. The Patriots carried on with a patchwork defense this season, and they should be commended for getting as far as Denver. But doesn’t it seem like “patchwork” is a term we use far too often when it comes to New England’s personnel?
There shouldn’t have to be blame on a day like this. The Patriots made it further than they ever should have this season.
But from the Hernandez situation to the Brandon Spikes controversy, maybe Belichick ought to look in his own mirror before laying blame on others for why his team won’t be headed to the Meadowlands until the fall.
At least until the next time we can blame Wes Welker for something.