This time, the story was Welker
FOXBOROUGH - The Jets milked that first one, didn’t they? They beat the Patriots way back when to go 2-0 en route to 3-0, and they had a lot to say. Of course, they didn’t beat the real Patriots, who were missing two players of some consequence.
One, as we all know, was Wes Welker, the man Bill Belichick refers to as “the best slot receiver in the league.’’ And the other was Tom Brady. Some guy wearing No. 12 played in that game back on Sept. 20, but it certainly wasn’t Tom Brady.
Welker played yesterday. Darrelle Revis did another nice job on Randy Moss, which is fine and dandy, but that’s only the starting point in trying to defense New England when Brady is on his game and Welker is in the lineup. Brady found No. 83 for a Welker-career-high of 15 catches, good for another Welker-career-high of 192 yards. There were a lot of reasons why that 16-9 Jets triumph two months ago turned into a 31-14 Patriots victory down at The Razor late yesterday afternoon and early evening, but it’s a pretty good place to start.
Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis is no fool. It all made sense to him.
“If you look at it,’’ he observed, “Welker, that is really their offense. That is where everything is generated through. Moss, they know we are keying on him, so that frees up Welker a little bit. He is the focal point. He makes a lot of tough plays for them. We know what type of player he was, but they just hit us with him.’’
About the only thing Welker didn’t do was get into the end zone. But he constantly moved the chains to help set up the team’s three offensive touchdowns and the 26-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
Most of the time he tortured the Jets with his usual quick-out or across-the-middle slant stuff, accompanied by his usual Yards After Catch (YAC), but he broke out of that mold in the second quarter. On third and 7 at the Jets’ 46, Welker and Brady caught the Jets defensive backs in an indecisive moment and made them pay, with Welker breaking free for a 43-yard grab that set up the Patriots for a first-and-goal at the 3. Two plays later Laurence Maroney went in to make it 21-0.
“I think they got a little confused,’’ Welker explained. “I noticed it, and Tom did, too.’’
“They looked like they were going to blitz, and then they changed their mind,’’ added Brady. “Then I saw Wes running upfield.’’
That was the biggest yardage-gobbler, but there were five Welker receptions of 15 yards or more, and eight in double figures overall. On a nine-play, 76-yard drive that resulted in a 4-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Moss, Welker accounted for 51 yards on receptions of 17, 15, and 19 yards.
He’s a handy guy to have around, according to the coach.
“Wes always does a good job for us,’’ said Belichick, ever parsimonious with the specific one-game compliments.
Given the attention the Jets had lavished on Moss in that first game, Welker had enough sense to know his number might be called every now and then.
“I knew there were going to be a lot of balls coming my way, but maybe not to that extent,’’ he said. “I was just working the middle of the field.’’
On many occasions he simply owns the middle of the field, and this was one of those days.
“When you line up in the slot,’’ Brady explained, “you have the whole field to work with. You’re typically against the third defensive back on the field. You’ve got to read things quickly, and Wes is able to use his quickness. When you’re on the outside, you have the best defensive backs and you have a limited area to work with.’’
The opportunities to make plays as a slot receiver are open to one and all, but the fact is no one in the contemporary NFL makes as many that break the defense’s heart and spirit as Wes Welker. The play isn’t usually over when he catches the ball; it’s just beginning. And it doesn’t seem to matter much how hard you hit him, either.
“He takes a lot of hits,’’ Brady said. “The middle of the field is where the big boys are. He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever played with. He’s as durable as anyone I’ve ever seen.’’
Welker could probably never play for Rex Ryan’s Jets. He isn’t good enough in the bragging department.
Asked, for example, to comment on it being such a busy day, he said, “The guys did a great job around me of playing really well and blocking up front, and everybody was just doing their jobs. That’s what it comes down to, and that’s how you have success out there.’’
Go ahead. Put that on your bulletin board, you Saints.
As for Brady, this was his fifth consecutive 300-yard game. He’s the real deal now, not that cautious guy lacking his old pocket presence in the face of the endless Jets blitzes. He was really up for this game, and he’s enjoying football life in general once again.
“We came into this season not knowing what kind of a team we really had,’’ he said. “It’s been a fun 10 weeks. We’ve only had those three bad second halves, but we’ve learned a lot from those losses.’’
The Jets were the perfect opponent for the Patriots this week. The thing in Indy hurt, no question, but by Wednesday the focus was on the mouthy Jets. The Patriots knew they could eliminate the Jets from the divisional race and eliminate them from any remote postseason consideration by taking care of business, and so they did, allowing just one offensive touchdown while piling up a 272-34 first-half total offense advantage.
The big difference between Game 1 and this one was the unstoppable Brady-Welker combo.
“To his credit,’’ said Ryan, “it wasn’t as if it was blown coverages. If we played zone, he found a spot in the zone. Sometimes we had two guys on him and Brady has such confidence in him he was still feeding him the football.’’
Again we ask: Why is Wes Welker even here . . . what was Miami thinking?