Life without Wes Welker began for the Patriots today, and the loss will affect no one more than Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback for whom Welker became a favorite target and constant sense of security. When Brady found himself in difficult circumstances, he could turn to Welker. He has a week to figure out where to turn once the playoffs begin.
"You canít replace him," Brady said today during a contractually obligated appearance on WEEI. "Thereís no doubt about that. Thereís nobody that can substitute in for Wes and think that theyíre going to be Wes. Heís everything you ask for. Heís an incredible player and leader. As football goes, itís kind of the way it works, unfortunately. Weíve got to move on, weíve got to go out there and play, and everyone in different areas has to pick it up.
"Iíve got to play better, Julianís got to play better, Randy [Moss] has got to play better, the offensive line, the running backs, the tight ends, we all have to do more. I think thatís the commitment weíre going to have to make to one another. Nobody loves Wes more than me. Going through a knee injury last year was a hard thing for me, but in a lot of ways it was a good thing for me. It taught me a lot. I think for Wes itís going to do the same thing. Heís as hard a worker as anyone Iíve been around. Heís everything you ask for. But in the short term, youíve just got to look at it [like] it could be any injury. It could be an ankle sprain that someoneís out for this week. Weíve got to find ways to win the game, like weíve always really done here."
After yesterday's loss to the Texans, Houston cornerback Dunta Robinson pointed out an obvious and important drawback for the Patriots not having Welker. No longer to defenses know they will have to double-team both Randy Moss and Welker. Brady tried to spin this in a positive way, saying that Welker's absecne may help the Patriots offense "evolve."
"Itís one less player they have to worry about, obviously," Brady said. "But thereís going to be other things. Weíre going to evolve a little bit as an offense now. It was a very Wes Welker-oriented offense. And now, maybe part of the advantage is Baltimore really doesnít know what theyíre going to see from us now. Weíre going to have to shift focus. Theyíre really not sure where that focus is going to go. In some ways thatís an advantage for us. Thereís a lot of things weíve done with Wes that we donít do with anyone else. Weíre going to find other areas to exploit, and use the talents of Julian and Sam [Aiken] and Randy and Chris Baker and Kevin [Faulk] and Laurence [Maroney] and Fred [Taylor] and Sammy [Morris] ó all these other really great players we have on offense to be able to move the ball."
Brady said he could not tell yet if Julian Edelman will simply fill in for Welker, or if the Patriots will use a committee approach to finding an over-the-middle threat to complement Moss. Certain matchups against the Ravens, Brady said, will dictate some of that.
As for the long term, Brady knows the challenge Welker is facing. Welker's ACL and MCL tears are the same that Brady suffered last season, the same he returned from this year. The injury will likely be more difficult for Welker to overcome because his ability is predicated on quick cuts and rapid accelleration. For example, Brady pointed out that he can wear a knee brace, a device that would inhibit Welker.
"Weíre all going to get through it," Brady said. "Heís going to get through it. Heís just that kind of person. Heís just a fighter. Heís always been a fighter. Heís going to attack whatever he needs to do as hard as he can. Thatís why heís always been successful. You never bet against a guy like Wes, because his heart and commitment to what it takes is stronger than just about anybody elseís. We talked a little bit, but heís going to fight through it. Iím sure thereís going to be a day or two when heís pissed off. Because he loves competing so much, thatís going to be the hard part for him, hopefully for the next month."
Brady was asked to elaborate on how it could possibly be a good thing to endure.
"I think it makes you realize a lot of things about your career and what it means when you are out there," Brady said. "Youíre definitely very grateful every time you walk off the field feeling good. Football, itís a very non-forgiving game. You never know when that play is going to come. How many times has Wes made that cut over the course of his career? Sure enough, itís just this one time where the foot doesnít land right.
"How many times have I stood in the pocket with a blitzer coming? Itís one of those situations where it doesnít stop for anybody. It rolls right on. But we love Wes. We love the commitment heís made to us. Believe me, weíre all going to make that commitment to him. In the short term, weíre going to get over it real quick. We should be over it now. You realize we played a game without him yesterday, and thatís just the way itís going to be."
Brady also addressed the reports that he is playing with broken or cracked ribs and a broken right ring finger.
"What does the injury report say?" Brady said. "Iím feeling really good now. Iím feeling really good. Everyone breaks bones over the course of the year. Iím feeling pretty good. This is the best Iíve felt in a while."