THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Opponents weren’t braced for Welker’s return

Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers can only watch as the Patriots’ Wes Welker scrambles away for additional yardage. Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers can only watch as the Patriots’ Wes Welker scrambles away for additional yardage. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / September 13, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Tom Brady believed several months ago that Wes Welker would be ready for the Patriots’ season opener. Welker also thought his recovery from February reconstructive knee surgery would allow him to return sooner than expected.

But not everyone felt the same. Some might not have believed Welker would be on the field at Gillette Stadium until they actually saw him in the flesh yesterday. That group evidently included the Bengals’ defense, which neglected to account for Welker as he scored the Patriots’ first touchdown in a 38-24 win.

Welker had a 5-yard reception on the Patriots’ first play from scrimmage, indicating the team was going to throw him right back in the thick of things. Inexplicably, though, once the Patriots got to the Bengals’ 9-yard line, Welker was left uncovered on the left side of the field, with two blockers in front of him. The Cincinnati defense apparently had forgotten about Welker just long enough. And by the time the Bengals started shifting toward Welker, it was too late to stop him from catching a Brady pass and going untouched into the end zone.

“I was out there with the two big bodies, probably the best blockers on the team, against two corners,’’ Welker said. “So, I was glad Tom threw it out there, and if I didn’t score on that one I might as well retire.’’

In fairness, the Bengals might have been consulting with the same medical and rehabilitation team that had urged Welker to proceed with caution following surgery.

Asked about his recovery program, Welker responded, “Doctors, what do they know? So, I think when they saw my quad and how all the muscles were the same size as the other side, things like that, they were a little bit shocked, but at the same time, very cautious.’’

Sort of like the Bengals. This was apparently the same Welker who caught 123 passes in 14 games before being injured in January.

But the Bengals seemed shocked enough by the sight that Welker did not register with them until after the Patriots’ first possession.

“This was always my goal, to get back for Week 1, if not sooner,’’ said Welker, who finished with eight catches for 64 yards, including a 4-yard scoring grab in the second quarter.

“I didn’t know how much I’d play Week 1 or anything, but I knew I wanted to go be back and contribute to the team winning, and we were able to accomplish that, so it’s on to the next step.’’

Others might have been in the training room, riding a stationary bike, allowing a little more time for recovery.

“I had a pretty good idea, I had pretty much instilled in my mind that I’d be back,’’ Welker said.

“There were different scenarios kind of talked about, like [the physically unable to perform list] and save my body, and different things like that, but that’s just not in me. I can’t sit there and watch my team out there playing and sit there and work out all day. I was pretty much sick of it and ready to get out there and play.

“It was one of those deals, I didn’t really expect to lead off the season scoring a touchdown on our first drive. It’s kind of a special deal with all the adversity and everything I’ve had to go through in this offseason to get where I’m at. So, to score on the opening drive was definitely a cool thing, so I’ll definitely put that ball in a special spot.

“I still have a ways to go. We’re not all the way there yet. And I still have this stupid knee brace that I hate and I can’t wait to burn it. But we’re getting there, slowly but surely.

“I think [the injury] helped me not take things for granted, really do everything you can to make yourself ready to go out there and play.

“I just don’t want to leave any stones unturned and just want to make sure I’m giving it everything I’ve got and not take it for granted.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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