FOXBOROUGH — On his eighth and final reception on Sunday, Wes Welker caught a 7-yard pass with 2:53 remaining in the game to give the Patriots their final first down of a 28-0 win over Miami.
As his reward, Welker earned an early retreat to the sideline, a handshake, and the warmth of a winter coat to fight off the evening’s frostiness. Welker caught a game-high eight balls for 94 yards and one touchdown. His bounty was well-deserved.
“We came out and executed well and did some good things,” Welker said. “Defensively, we played really well and shut them out, which is great. We were able to put some points on the board, which helped out.”
It had not been a satisfying week for Welker. The wide receiver’s fifth Pro Bowl nod, which he earned on Wednesday, did little to aid Welker’s mood.
Welker and his teammates didn’t have the consistency they wanted in the 23-16 win over Jacksonville Dec. 23. Their priority on Sunday was to beat Miami, but also to regain the offensive rhythm that had been elusive instead of dependable.
“It gives us reason to want to get better, practice hard, and do what we need to do to get better,” Welker said Thursday. “We’re just trying to push each other in the right direction.”
Before the game, Welker was aware of Houston’s impending loss to Indianapolis. But he said it didn’t affect his preparation for the Dolphins.
“You’ve got to go out there and perform,” Welker said. “We’re in the performance business. No matter what the case is, you’ve got to go out there and perform and do your job.”
In the regular-season finale, Welker and the Patriots rediscovered the offensive pace they had been seeking. Welker started his day with a record-setting catch.
Two plays after Steve Gregory’s interception gave the Patriots the ball on Miami’s 28-yard line, Welker helped make history. At 6:44 of the first quarter, Welker dashed up the middle, turned in the end zone, and caught a Brady pass for New England’s first touchdown.
Welker’s catch made Brady the first quarterback in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass in all 16 games for three straight seasons. On the play, Brady also passed Johnny Unitas to record his 48th straight regular-season game with a touchdown pass.
Welker’s next catch also gave Brady a bump in the record books. With 2:22 remaining in the first quarter, Welker had a 10-yard reception. The pass gave Brady 44,614 career passing yards, nudging him past former teammate Drew Bledsoe for ninth on the NFL’s all-time yardage list.
The eight-catch day was yet another solid performance for Welker against his former club. In 11 career games against the Dolphins, Welker has 95 catches for 1,178 yards and six touchdowns. They are Welker’s highest totals against any team in the NFL.
“I don’t want to say it’s coincidence,” coach Bill Belichick said Friday of Welker’s strong play against Miami. “I know Wes is a good player and he plays well against a lot of teams. I don’t have any reason why.”
Welker concluded the regular season with 118 catches for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns. His 118 receptions marked the third-highest total of his career. He caught 123 balls in 2009 and 122 in 2011. Welker’s 1,354 yards were his second-highest total since he posted a team-record 1,569 yards in 2011.
Welker has proven to be Brady’s primary target. Because of his quickness and toughness, Welker can attack defenses on the perimeters and the inside of the field.
He could get even more room in the playoffs. With tight end Rob Gronkowski back on Sunday for the first time after missing five games, the Dolphins had one more pass-catching threat to cover. If Gronkowski can shake off the inactivity and reclaim his receiving tempo in two weeks, Welker might find additional soft spots in defenses.
“He made some big catches in the game,” Welker said of Gronkowski. “He really got us going on that one drive. He made a big catch down the middle. He made another big catch for a touchdown. With his presence blocking and everything else, he does a great job for us.”
Now Welker and the Patriots can rest because of the bye.
“It kind of lets you get away a little bit, yet still be able to focus on the practice field and get better out there,” Welker said of the first-round breather. “You’re not really game-planning quite yet, but get an idea of how we need to go and go about things.”