Welker had some free time
FOXBOROUGH - There were plenty of suggestions about how to stop Wes Welker before yesterday’s game against the Jets.
The riddle has yet to be solved. Another team watched Welker break free for deep passes and get open for short gains. The result? Five catches for 124 yards in a 30-21 Patriots victory.
Welker has become the Patriots’ No. 1 receiver and now owns an NFL record for receiving yards through five games. His performance yesterday boosted his season totals to 45 receptions and 740 yards.
Only T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s 47 receptions in 2007 with Cincinnati ranks better through five games. Welker’s 740 yards surpassed the record held by Charley Hennigan of the 1961 Houston Oilers (704).
Last week, Jets coach Rex Ryan didn’t reveal how he wanted to cover Welker, who hadn’t gained more than 100 receiving yards against the Jets since he caught 15 passes for 192 yards in November 2009.
The Jets shook it up, varying their coverages. Respected cornerback Darrelle Revis even chipped in, especially in the first half, moving to the slot to cover Welker.
When Revis was involved, Tom Brady seemed to limit his throws in Welker’s direction.
“He’s always a factor,’’ Welker said of Revis. “He’s a great player. You definitely have to make sure you’re very crisp with all your routes and really kind of set him up with stuff and be smart about it. Every play is kind of go time when he’s across from you, so he does a great job with all of that and it’s a little game of cat and mouse sometimes with him and you just have to keep on plugging away and hopefully get some big plays every once in a while.’’
That big-play moment arrived to start the third quarter. On the first play from scrimmage, Welker sprinted by safety Eric Smith and Revis down the middle of the field.
As Welker looked over his shoulder, he reached out for a well-placed ball from Brady and took off for a 73-yard gain. Revis caught up just in time to trip up Welker at the Jets 7-yard line.
“It was like he was going across the field and got us on a double move and he was gone up the field,’’ Revis said.
The play led to Deion Branch catching a 2-yard touchdown pass that helped the Patriots take a 17-7 lead.
The catch was the second-longest reception in Welker’s career. He had a 99-yard reception for a touchdown in the season opener against Miami.
“It was just one of those plays where the safety was a little overaggressive and we had run a similar-type play and ran the ball,’’ Welker said. “So I kind of got a feel for what that safety was doing and so I went down and acted like I was going to block him and took off on it and Tom made a good throw.’’
Welker is on pace for 2,369 receiving yards, which would shatter Jerry Rice’s record 1,848 in 1995. The franchise record is 1,493 by Randy Moss in 2007.
Teams may be paying attention to Welker, but he is proving to be an even tougher challenge week after week.
“He’s as hot as any receiver in the game right now, so you’ve got to mix looks on him, you mix coverages to try to take him away as good as you can,’’ Jets safety Jim Leonhard said. “We did a decent job but we ended up giving him two big plays. Their first touchdown drive I made a mistake and he ended up getting free [for 32 yards], and then he has the 70-some yarder. There you go. Two catches and he has a huge day. It’s tough.’’