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FOXBOROUGH — There are no perfect marriages.
People argue. People feel disrespected. Someone says the wrong thing at the wrong time. Feelings get bruised.
In life, and in sports.
The last year has not been perfect in the marriage of Wes Welker and the Patriots. There have been Super Bowl-winning completions gone awry, strained contract negotiations, and reordering of depth charts.
But all it takes is that one moment, one season for both sides to realize why they fell for each other in the first place. Sometimes things happen for a reason. Maybe 2012 was that way for Welker and the Patriots. Because right now, it’s a lovefest between both sides.
While everyone else got hurt and missed games, Welker was there.
“To be able to go out there and do it week after week against all the different coverages, all the different matchups that we see and all that, it’s a real credit to Wes’s ability but also his toughness and his durability because he’s taken a lot of hits out there,” coach Bill Belichick said.
And the Patriots keep finding ways to put Welker in good positions to make plays.
“I will say, Bill gets the most out of me, and I appreciate that,” Welker said. “And it never stops. I understand it and I’m cool with it and I think we have a good relationship.”
Perhaps, one that will endure long after this season.
To this day, Welker and Tom Brady still haven’t discussed The Pass in last February’s Super Bowl. Not even privately. And they certainly aren’t going to do it now, leading up to Sunday’s divisional playoff game against the Texans.
“I’m just worried about getting ready for Houston,” Welker said.
“We’re just trying to get better and work hard at things and, yeah, I wish I completed every pass I threw in every game that I played, but I don’t,” Brady said. “But it doesn’t keep me from feeling as confident about this week’s game.”
Combine the Super Bowl with Welker’s 12 drops through 13 games this season (none since), and Welker drew his fair share of criticism. Brady, however, has no problem with Welker’s ability to catch passes, in any situation, in any game.
“That’s part of playing,” Brady said. “I think what’s most impressive about Wes is his ability to move on to the next play. So if he drops a ball, then he’s clearly not dropping another one, and I don’t lose any confidence. If Wes doesn’t lose confidence, I don’t lose confidence.”
Of course, focusing on just the drops — ProFootballFocus.com has Welker for 15 — misses a lot of context. Welker was fourth in the league with 166 targets. Of the top-10 targeted receivers, only Welker called the middle of the field his offense. Calvin Johnson (14 drops), Brandon Marshall (13), Steve Johnson (11), Demaryius Thomas (11), Reggie Wayne (10), A.J. Green (10), Larry Fitzgerald (five), and Roddy White (four) are boundary receivers. They have much less to worry about, and Brady said that explains the greatness of Welker.
“He’s fearless. I think that’s No. 1,” Brady said. “To run across the middle of the field full speed while looking at the quarterback . . . you know, just think about that. There are 240-, 250-pound guys in there that are looking to take his head off, and he’s just fearless. That’s a very rare gift. It’s hard to comprehend a lot of the time. There are a lot of things going on there in the middle of the field on a down-by-down basis and what he’s able to do with his body, I think that’s what I admire most.”
There were times this season when it looked as if Welker wouldn’t get back up, battling foot and ankle injuries that were much worse than he let on. That will happen when you’ve caught 768 passes in eight years, and are 31 years old. But Welker always answers the bell.
“I put a lot of emphasis on myself to be tough, and try and be the toughest player in the NFL,” Welker said. “I think I have to do that to make up for a lot of other things as far as my size and everything else. I’m constantly telling myself to tough it out and be tough. I think it has served me well.”
You wonder where the Patriots would be this season without Welker. Aaron Hernandez missed the better part of seven games. Rob Gronkowski missed five, and played one with one arm. Julian Edelman missed seven, and Deion Branch six.
Yet the Patriots still set an NFL record with 444 first downs, scored 67 touchdowns (fourth-best all time), led the league with 557 points (third-most in league history), and their 6,846 yards were fifth all time.
Welker, who became the only receiver in league history with five 100-catch seasons (118 in 2012), was in uniform for all of those marks.Continued...