In his post-game press conference following the New England Patriots’ 17-21 loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, wide receiver Wes Welker claimed he “let the team down” as he appeared to be holding back tears from his eyes. Welker dropped a crucial fourth-quarter pass that could have been a big gain in the midst of a potential game-sealing drive while the Patriots held a 17-15 lead.
Welker’s self-blame came from his genuine emotion, and he was a consummate professional about the way he handled the defeat. However, in the aftermath of the game, in which critics feel the need to place specific blame on the reason for the game’s loss, Welker’s drop has been cited as that reason.
Welker led the NFL this season with 122 receptions, so of any receiver in the league, he is expected to make that catch. Welker has made many tough catches in his career, and therefore he knew he was capable of making the play, and as a result he is very disappointed in himself.
That said, it is unfair to criticize Welker given the difficulty of that reception. If anyone is to blamed for that play, it should be quarterback Tom Brady. The pass from Brady was thrown behind Welker, forcing Welker to leap up, adjust his body and make the catch over his back shoulder.
Brady missed behind Welker on the throw, making what should have make an easier catch much more difficult for his intended receiver.
Brady, a quarterback known for his clutch fourth-quarter performances, was unable to come through this time. The Patriots went into the fourth quarter with a 17-15 lead, but Brady’s first pass of the fourth quarter was an interception, and immediately following the pass off Welker’s hands, Brady missed again with a throw behind Deion Branch. When the Patriots needed Brady to make big plays in this game, he came up short.
It is easy to be distracted by the beauty of Brady’s wife, Gisele Bundchen, but her comments about the game’s outcome was misguided. A video on theinsider.com captured paparazzi surrounding Bundchen following the game, leading her to angrily rant that “my husband cannot (expletive) throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time.”
Brady is more at fault than any of his receivers are for the outcome of this game, but that said, he should not also not be blamed for the team’s loss. For three quarters, Brady was on his way to another terrific Super Bowl performance, including a stretch between the second and third quarters in which he completed a Super Bowl-record 16 consecutive passes. (Before you bring on the LeBron James comparisons, remember that Brady has three rings.)
After a big loss, people almost always point to one big play and one player that cost the team the game. But in this instance, that is an unfair blame to place. This play came on 2nd-and-11, and in Brady’s defense, he had to make a difficult throw with three defenders within striking distance of Welker.
Football is a team game, and Super Bowl XLVI was a classic case of two very closely matched teams where one big play could win or lose the game. The Patriots never made that big play, while the Giants got their big play on the next drive with an absolutely perfect 38-yard sideline completion from quarterback Eli Manning to Mario Manningham in between double coverage.
This play was not the defense’s fault, as Manningham was well-covered by Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore and safety Patrick Chung. Manning and Manningham simply connected for a perfect play, a play that turned the entire momentum of the game and led to the eventual Giants’ game-winning touchdown.
In this game, the Giants made the big plays they needed to make and proved to be the better team on the field. There is no reason to place blame on any specific Patriots player for this loss because as an entire team, they came up one play, one drive or one stop, and four points short. As one of the NFL’s most reliable wide receivers, Welker should have caught that pass, but the criticism he is receiving is unfair considering it would have been a difficult catch on a poorly placed pass.
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