A number of reasons to smile
Welker catches his share of spotlight
IRVING, Texas - It was billed as Terrell Owens vs. Randy Moss. The Original 81 vs. the other 81.
Somewhere along the way everyone forgot about No. 83.
That would be Wes Welker, who did it all while helping the Patriots remain undefeated with a 48-27 victory over the Cowboys yesterday.
Welker caught 11 passes for 124 yards, both career highs, including touchdowns of 35 and 12 yards. He also averaged 12.3 yards on three punt returns and 27.5 yards on a pair of kick returns.
"Wes has done a great job for us. He's a good slot receiver," coach Bill Belichick said. "When the opportunity comes, he has made plays for us both on offense and in the kicking game."
That's exactly what the Patriots were expecting when they acquired Welker in a trade with AFC East rival Miami in March for picks in the second and seventh round. But it's the flair he's displayed after catching the ball that has made his teammates, the opposition, and fans take notice.
The 5-foot-9-inch Welker starts and stops on the proverbial dime. He gets closer to the ground than a limbo dancer while evading another attempt by a would-be tackler. Spin moves? Better than Justin Timberlake.
"He's so quick and a real hard worker, as are all the receivers," tight end Kyle Brady said. "He's really tough to cover because he can accelerate and get out of his breaks real quick."
That was apparent numerous times yesterday. Here's one example from the fourth quarter:
On second and 5 at the Dallas 38, Tom Brady completed a short pass to Welker near the right sideline. Welker juked Terence Newman, the Cowboys' best cornerback, with an Elvis-worthy shake of his hips before picking up 6 yards and another first down.
The drive continued for another nine plays and four minutes before culminating in a 22-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski that gave the Patriots a 41-27 lead that all but sealed the outcome.
"I feel like when I was in there I was able to make some plays," said Welker, who picked up first downs with third-down receptions of 16 and 20 yards on the Patriots' opening drive.
Welker, 26, once caught nine passes for 77 yards against the Patriots. He wouldn't come out and say this was his best game as a pro, but certainly ranked it high on his list.
"I think this is definitely up there," said Welker, who grew up in Oklahoma and graduated from Texas Tech. "I'm not sure what my stats were [yesterday], but as far as the feel of the game and being able to make some plays in critical situations, it's definitely [one of my best].
"I wouldn't say it was my busiest game, but I had the ball in my hands a lot. At least a lot more than I usually do."
Welker was the favorite target of Brady, although he pointed out that's just the way things went this day.
"Tom isn't going to focus on one guy," said Welker. "He is constantly looking at the whole field and reading coverage, and I have to do the same thing."
That was seconded by Belichick. "Most of those plays were a function of what the coverage was," the coach said. "Tom does a good job of getting the ball to the open guy. He reads the coverage, and that's who he throws it to."
Donte' Stallworth (seven catches, 136 yards, TD) and Moss (six catches, 59 yards, TD) certainly saw their share of throws.
However, no one ended up with more catches than Welker.
Not only that, he caught them on the sideline and in the slot. He caught the short ones and the long ones, as was the case when he split defensive backs Kenny Hamlin and Nathan Jones while pulling in a 35-yard touchdown pass that put the Patriots ahead, 14-0, with 2:14 to go in the first quarter.
Welker has three receiving TDs this year after having one in his first four seasons. He also has caught 38 passes, good for 386 yards, and is well on his way to career highs in both categories. While his production has increased, his work ethic remains the same.
"I think you just play hard every play," the humble Welker said. "No matter what the route is or whether it's a clear out, it's all part of the play. You have to make sure you're going every single play and going fast, going hard, and trying to win no matter what your assignment is."