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Patriots run up YAC total

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / December 30, 2011
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FOXBOROUGH - There is perhaps no better example of “YAC,’’ or “yards after catch,’’ than Wes Welker’s game-sealing touchdown in Miami in Week 1.

With the Patriots offense starting at its 1-yard line, Tom Brady threw from the end zone and found Welker in stride around the 18. Welker stiff-armed rookie cornerback Jimmy Wilson, then had a clear path to the end zone, scoring the 12th 99-yard touchdown in NFL history.

And 82 yards came after the catch.

“The greatest feeling in the world is getting extra yards during a play,’’ said Patriots running back Kevin Faulk. “Because the play is blocked to get you so many yards, and after that it’s all on you. And there’s usually one guy unblocked every time that you have to make miss.’’

The Patriots are quite good at making defenders miss. According to Stats Inc., they lead the league in yards after catch with 2,483 (the Saints are second with 2,295).

With one game remaining, that is already the highest YAC total for a season since Stats Inc. started keeping track of the statistic in 1992. The previous best was 2,464 by the 1995 49ers.

New England has three receivers among the top 20 in YAC: Welker is first with 726, Rob Gronkowski is fourth with 644, and Aaron Hernandez is 20th with 431. New Orleans is the only other team with three players in the top 20.

“I’d say that the No. 1 job for the ball carrier as it relates to receivers and tight ends and backs in the passing game is to catch the ball first - get open and catch the ball - and then make positive yards after the catch,’’ Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said. “All of our guys . . . they just do a great job with yards after the catch.

“It’s something we work on in drill work and things like that, but the credit goes to those guys and their ability to break tackles.’’

Faulk said getting yards after the catch - or yards after contact for running backs - is a point of emphasis for the Patriots, but also, “One of Bill [Belichick’s] favorite comments is, ‘Know when the journey’s over.’

“So, you’re taught to get your yards after contact, but at the same time be smart and know when to get down.’’

While quarterbacks are credited for YAC their teammates amass, there are more tangible benefits.

“Any time you can take a short play and turn it into a longer play, any time you take a run that seems to be stuffed in the backfield and make positive yards out of it, all those things really help an offense because a lot of times those are the difference between a field goal and being close to getting a touchdown later in that drive,’’ said right guard Brian Waters.

“First downs. Count how many first downs you get in one run - that’s one or two first downs you don’t have to get [later in a drive],’’ Faulk said. “One play’’ - he snaps his fingers - “and you’ve got two first downs already.

“It’s something that you talk about all the time. Don’t just make the play, try to get some yards after the play. So, it’s a good thing.’’

Brady, who is 103 passing yards away from his first 5,000-yard season, and just the fourth in league history, benefits when his receivers pick up yards after the catch, but they also benefit from having a quarterback who is on target so frequently.

Again, go back to that 99-yard touchdown in the opener: Brady hit Welker perfectly in stride. Had Welker needed to stop or come back for the ball, the defense likely would have gotten to him and the play would have ended - for a first down, but not a touchdown.

“That’s a huge part of it,’’ O’Brien said. “That you put the ball one foot in front of the numbers on a crossing route, make sure that they don’t have to reach back or reach down or reach up to catch. They’re catching it clean and they can stay on the move and see the defense without having to be too concerned about the throw itself. The accuracy of the throw is definitely a major factor.’’

To that end, Brady’s 65.6 completion percentage ranks third in the league, while the Saints’ Drew Brees, who also has a YAC-happy offense, is No. 1 at 70.7 percent.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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