OAKLAND, Calif. — In the Bay Area, it’s common to reference one of the greatest quarterback-receiver combinations in Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. In New England, it’s becoming habit for a Patriots duo to usurp their luster.
On Sunday, with two touchdown passes against the Oakland Raiders, Tom Brady passed boyhood idol Joe Montana for career touchdown passes with 274, moving him up to ninth all-time in the NFL. It wasn’t long ago – 2007 – that then Patriots receiver Randy Moss passed Jerry Rice’s record for most touchdown receptions in a season with 23.
And with Brady on a tear through the first four games of the year, it might not be long before the tandem of Brady and Wes Welker is added to the list of most feared quarterback-receiver combinations in NFL history.
Welker caught nine passes for 158 yards and a touchdown, pushing his season total to 40 grabs for 616 yards and five touchdowns. Welker is on pace for 160 receptions and more than 2400 yards.
“Nothing surprises me with Wes,” Brady said. “He’s the heart and soul of this team. He’s been that way since the day he got here.
“He shows up every single day being the best he can be,” Brady elaborated. “He sets a great example for every player, every veteran player, every young player, every coach of what he’s willing to do to commit himself to be the best at that he can be for this team.
“He never takes day off, he never takes a practice off, he never takes a play off — run or pass. It’s like that in practice. What you see in a game, is what he does in practice for us every day. And he never complains. He’s a helluva player and I love being out there with him.”
Through the first four games of the year, Brady has made sure Welker’s work ethic has been rewarded. The receiver has been targeted 57 times, 14 on Sunday against the Raiders and 20 last week against the Buffalo Bills.
“You know every time I go out there I expect to do well and catch balls and move the ball and try to help the offense move the ball down the field,” Welker said. “That’s kind of my goal no matter what. So that’s kind of the place it’s taken the first four games.”
Welker’s prolific stretch is hard not to notice.
“He does everything well,” said Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour. “He’s quick, he trusts in his route-running, he’s the energizer bunny out there. He’s a tough guy. He’s a tough cover for anybody. Him and Tom are on the same page.”
Welker is now 21 months from an MCL/ACL injury that sidelined him from the 2009-10 playoffs. He said that with the work he’s done on his speed and his diet has proved he’s beyond the injury.
“I feel like I’m passed that (injury),” Welker said “This is the best I’ve ever felt. This is the best I’ve ever played in my career. I think just my attitude toward the game and the work I put into it on a daily basis and understand that this is my job … just taking it very seriously and training and everything that I’ve been able to do has helped out this year.”
However, Welker wasn’t so sure about being called the “heart and soul” of the team, despite his monstrous numbers and being Brady’s favorite target.
“It’s great and everything, but I think we have a lot of guys that bring a lot of heart and a lot of soul to this team on a daily basis. And that’s what it’s about. The more guys we get on that wagon, the better off we’re gonna be.”
Zuri Berry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.