FOXBOROUGH – The numbers are startlingly similar: In his career with the Patriots, Troy Brown recorded 557 catches for 6,366 yards — an average of 11.4 yards per catch — and totaled 31 touchdowns.
In his career with the Patriots, Wes Welker has 557 catches for 6,119 yards — an average of 11 yards per catch — and 31 touchdowns.
The big difference? Welker got to those numbers in 78 games, or about 40 percent of the 192 games it took Brown to accumulate them.
In the Patriots’ season-opening win Sunday, Welker had what for him constitutes a very quiet day: three receptions for 14 yards.
But the third catch, an 8-yarder in the fourth quarter to give New England a fresh set of downs on a drive that would end with a field goal to extend the lead to 31-13, tied Welker with Brown as the franchise leader in receptions.
Welker should own that record after Sunday’s home opener against Arizona, the day after Brown is inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame.
One catch will take Welker from unheralded restricted free agent pickup to the most productive receiver the Patriots have had, in less than six seasons.
In true Welker fashion, however, he doesn’t see it that way. On Monday, he said it is Brown who will go down as the best receiver ever to play with the Patriots.
When Welker arrived in New England in 2007, brought here after what was technically a trade with the Dolphins for second- and seventh-round picks, he immediately began studying Brown, who was in his final season with the club, in the film room and also picking his brain in the locker room.
“When I first came here, all I did was watch film of Troy and how he played the ‘Z’ position here and all the things that he was able to do,” Welker said. “Watching him in multiple games make big plays and do some great things here.”
He learned how to read defenses and how to run the routes against certain defenses, and how to look at coverages, Welker explained. Brown was able to look at a defense and really understand what he was looking at. Those were things Welker tried to absorb.
Brown never was considered one of the very best at his position in the NFL during his 15-year career here.
What he was, however, and what he became, is the prototype for what is now known as the Patriot Way: he was selfless, he worked incredibly hard, he was an excellent teammate, and he did anything asked of him, playing in all three phases of the game during his final seasons.
He came into the league in almost the same fashion as Welker: Brown was an eighth-round pick in 1993, which today would likely mean he’d go undrafted as Welker did, since the draft ends after seven rounds.
Both had to prove they deserved a spot with a team, Welker in particular.
Their similar rise to success makes them kindred spirits.
“I think in a way, yeah,” Welker said. “I see him around all the time and we talk all the time and I think our career paths are a lot the same in many ways, besides the Super Bowl victories, I guess.
“He’s just one of those guys that was always very persistent and stayed on top of everything and made great plays and worked hard and did all the things necessary to make this team win, but it would almost be an honor for me to be in the same category with him.”
The Patriots offense has been largely the same for the decade-plus that Bill Belichick has been head coach, and Welker believes Brown’s success paved the way for his own.
“I think Troy really set the tone for the position that we play here and really why this position on this offense is so emphasized is because of Troy,” Welker said. “A lot of the things he did before I got there and I think things really developed even more so toward his later years and me coming in, but I definitely picked up so much from him and what’s he’s been able to do and it’s really an honor to be even in the same breath as far as records or anything like that with Troy.”
Yes, he said twice it is an honor to be in Brown’s company in the Patriots record book.
Brown cemented his status as the ultimate teammate when he played cornerback in an emergency in 2004. Welker doesn’t know if he can make that switch, though of course he didn’t rule it out.
He was asked if he could play corner.
“Not like Troy Brown, no,” Welker said.
Would you play defense?
“We’ll stick to receiver for now. If I need to, I will, but we’ll stick to offense right now.”
It certainly has worked thus far.