Patriots 19, Jets 10 (9/14/08): The defense carries the day in Matt Cassel's first start, and the Patriots run the ball 32 times. Cassel winds up with just 165 yards through the air, and Welker winds up on the receiving end of seven of his 16 completions anyway.
Steelers 33, Patriots 10 (11/30/08): The Patriots are blown out of the building as the eventual world champs knock the you-know-what outta Cassel, who's reduced to checking down and taking sacks. Moss had a big drop in this one too, but the Patriots had trouble getting the ball on the perimeter period. Jabar Gaffney had the only other catch by a wideout, and that one went for 2 yards.
Patriots 13, Bills 0 (12/28/08): The Wind Bowl. Remember the crooked goal posts? Cassel threw just eight passes on that day, and the Patriots ran it 47 times in what became 60 minutes of clockball.
Patriots 27, Ravens 21 (10/4/09): This is the game, I've been told, when Brady really started to feel comfortable in his comeback from knee surgery. Here's where it showed -- He hit nine different receivers and the Patriots scored 27 points despite rushing for just 2.8 yards per carry.
The bigger question here has seemed to be whether the Patriots miss having that third receiver they did with Gaffney and Stallworth in '07 and Gaffney alone last year. It's hard to find evidence of that here.
Gaffney, in the seven games he was with the team above, had five catches for 32 yards and that one big touchdown against Baltimore. Stallworth, in the four games from 2007 when Welker and Moss were held down, had nine catches for 144 yards and a touchdown.
Do the Patriots miss having another weapon like that? Yeah, sure they do, particularly because Brady had a pretty high level of trust that Gaffney would be in the right spot at the right time.
But the truth is that when Moss and Welker have been taken out of the game, it's been the backs and tight ends that have made the difference, and not the third receiver.