It was a weird Sunday in the Northeast last week, as not only did the New England Patriots shockingly lose to the Arizona Cardinals 20-18, but Wes Welker was more-or-less an afterthought for the Patriots offensively, at least until injuries hit.
According to Pro Football Focus, for the second consecutive week, Welker, who had 122 catches for 1,569 yards last year, was off the field for a significant portion of the game. And while the ninth-year veteran's snaps increased over Week 1, that was mainly a result of the ankle injury suffered by tight end Aaron Hernandez. Welker didn't even see the field until Hernandez went down.
There are any number of reasons being bandied about as potential causes for Welker's surprising absence, and here are a few of the leading candidates according to Gary Dzen of The Boston Globe.
The first is that the Patriots are using Welker sparingly because of a nagging injury. That one doesn't hold much water, as sources apparently told The Globe's Greg Bedard that Welker is fine and he certainly hasn't looked limited when on the field.
The second theory, one floated by the Patriots themselves, is that Welker's reduced snaps are simply the result of particular game plans for the season's first two weeks, as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels relayed to Christopher Price of WEEI before the Arizona game.
We kind of decide those on a week-to-week basis. Certainly Wes had some opportunities in the game and made the most on a few of those. Then we had some other opportunities we didn’t quite hit,” McDaniels said. “Wes’ role is the same as we’ve always gone. We’ll go each week and try to do what we think is best to help us win."
Do you seriously, for one minute, believe that not having Wes Welker on the field somehow increases the New England Patriots chances of beating the Tennessee Titans or Arizona Cardinals?
Me neither, which brings us to the most plausible (and distressing) possibility. That the Patriots are either phasing Welker out in favor of Julian Edelman because they expect this to be Welker's last year in New England, or they're "punishing" him for not inking a long-term, team-friendly deal in the offseason.
Granted, Julian Edelman is a capable receiver, but he ain't no Wes Welker, even with the latter on the downslope of his career at 31. And if the Patriots are indeed "punishing" Welker, then shame on them. Welker has been a huge contributor to that team over the past several years, a consummate pro, and went so far as to come back earlier than many thought was advisable from an ACL tear to help his team win.
I understand football is a business, but I thought the Patriots were also in the business of winning.
Dzen also mentions "the drop" in Super Bowl XLVI, that perhaps quarterback Tom Brady no longer trusts Welker. If that's the case then Brady's been using too much hair gel, because that "drop" had more to do with a pass that was off-target than bad hands.
At any rate it's a moot point now. With Hernandez out indefinitely, the Patriots have lost one of their top receivers, and they need all the reliable pass-catchers they can get.
Luckily it just so happens they have one. His name is Wes Welker.
Why he was ever off the field to begin with baffles me.