MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Wes Welker delivered the big play time after time for the Patriots Sunday.
In fact, Welker was a part of New England’s third, fourth, fifth, and sixth-longest plays from scrimmage Sunday (Sam Aiken and Randy Moss had the two longest plays). But after a 22-21 loss to the Dolphins at Land Shark Stadium, all Welker could talk about was the plays he could have made.
“That’s what we’re out there to do is make plays,” said Welker. “And we’ve got to make more of them. As many as it takes.”
It’s hard to imagine the Patriots could take much more from Welker and not come up with a win. The Patriots wideout had 10 catches for 167 yards on Sunday. He was targeted 13 times by quarterback Tom Brady. His longest play on the day, a 58-yard reception from Brady on a pass up the middle with 3:53 left in the second quarter, set the Patriots up for a first down on Miami’s 15-yard line. But the drive ended when the Patriots couldn’t convert on fourth and 1 at the 6-yard line.
“Anytime you get a 58-yard play you definitely want more of that, and luckily we were able to get that play in and get some progress there,” said Welker. “But overall we didn’t finish the drive, we came up fourth and inches, and we came away with nothing. So in the end it doesn’t really matter.”
The play was emblematic of a frustrating day for the Patriots, and a seemingly wasted one for Welker. New England led just 14-10 at halftime despite Welker’s 103 receiving yards in the first half.
“That guy is hard to guard,” said Dolphins coach Tony Sparano. “He really is. It ain’t just us. You just keep watching the film and he just keeps catching.”
Welker kept catching in the second half. Brady found his favorite target for a 28-yard reception at the 2:37 mark in the third quarter, but the Patriots failed to get another first down on the drive and were forced to punt. Brady hit Welker for an 18-yard reception in the fourth quarter, but that drive ended ended in a Brady interception in the end zone.
In other words, Welker’s three catches for 64 yards in the second half got lost in part because of a bad loss. The Patriots converted only one of three times in the red zone.
“To have the opportunities we have and to not finish is pretty disappointing,” said Welker.
After the game, someone in the New England interview room tried to advance a theory that Welker was being covered differently in the fourth quarter, and that the change in coverage prevented the Patriots from getting Welker the ball. The Dolphins did double-team Welker on several occasions in the second half, but that didn’t stop the Patriots from targeting Welker four times in the fourth quarter, as many times as Brady targeted the rest of the receiving corps combined.
“It looked like they pretty much did the same things the whole game, it looked to me,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “They switched a few things, but it looks like they did the same thing the whole game.”
“Not a change in coverage, no,” said Sparano.
So while Welker did have fewer catches in the second half (three, compared to seven in the first half), the stat was more a result of the Patriots’ demise than a cause.
“I think we had a lot of three-and-outs there in the second half, so if you’re not on the field very long it’s hard for anybody to make plays,” said Brady.
Welker made five plays of 10 or more yards Sunday, but he became of a victim of success for not making one more big play on the team’s desperate, final drive. On a drive that started at their own 22-yard line with 1:02 left in the fourth quarter, the Patriots made it only 11 more yards before Brady was intercepted by Channing Crowder, allowing the Dolphins to run out the clock.
Said Belichick of the drive, “We threw it outside there to Sam Aiken. We weren’t even going in [the middle of the field].”
In other words: Don’t blame Welker.
His statistics stood out all day, but after the game Welker stood in line with the rest of his teammates.
“It’s really frustrating,” he said “We’ve always been a team that’s been able to overcome situations and play through things, and we haven’t been able to do that. A lot of us need to look in the mirror, including myself. When it comes to those crucial situations we’ve got to capitalize.”
“We’ve just got to do a better job of it, and we’ve got four games to do it.”