Wes Welker, Unfazed by Pressure in 2012, Focused on Playoff Redemption

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Wes Welker, Unfazed by Pressure in 2012, Focused on Playoff Redemption
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
No one has forgotten this drop in Super Bowl XLVI by Wes Welker.

Wes Welker cost the Patriots Super Bowl XLVI.

What a completely incorrect and irresponsible opinion. Yes, Welker dropped that pass late in the game, but the pass could had been thrown better; QB Tom Brady would be the first person to say that.

No one blames WR Deion Branch for costing New England a win when he dropped a pass on a wide open crossing route. Or safety Patrick Chung for arriving too late to break up the Eli Manning pass to Mario Manningham. Or the defense for failing to recover either of two New York Giants fumbles.

None of that mattered, as many fans directed their ire at Welker for failing to come up with the big catch.

Welker accepted his share of the blame and probably hasn’t forgotten about that play. Welker might say he’s moved on, but any competitive athlete remembers their mistakes for a long time. It becomes their motivation as they drive themselves to make up for what they did wrong.

Welker’s focus for the playoffs will be to be the player he’s always been for the Patriots. There’s pressure on him to perform, but it hasn’t distracted him so far.

Besides the disappointment of Super Bowl XLVI, Welker played the 2012 season with his financial future at stake. Unable to reach a long-term contract agreement with New England, Welker signed the one-year franchise tag. It guaranteed him $9.52 million for the season, but nothing else.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
QB Tom Brady continues to look often at Welker, his favorite receiver over the past six seasons.

That meant Welker had to earn his next contract, whether it’s with the Patriots or another team. Staying healthy for the season would be the biggest obstacle keeping Welker from reaping the rewards of his hard work. Considering Welker does his best work over the middle—the most dangerous area of the field for a receiver—that wouldn’t be easy.

Welker pushed the distractions to the side and had a typical Wes Welker season with 118 receptions for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns. But Welker also had nine drops, tied for sixth most in the NFL, according to The Washington Post.

In negotiations, those drops could unfairly held against Welker, as was a torn ACL in 2009, which turned Welker from a tough, reliable every-down slot receiver into a 30-year-old with an injury history, even though he recovered quickly enough to post a fourth 100-reception season in 2011.

Even more disrespectful to Welker was his reduced role in the offense at the start of the 2012 season. Julian Edelman got a lot of snaps in place of Welker. New arrival Brandon Lloyd was also targeted more.

Whether New England was trying to get Lloyd assimilated into the team by force feeding him the ball or giving Edelman reps to build depth, their larger roles reduced that of Welker's.

And in the world of negotiations, less production equals less money. If the Patriots offense remained productive with less from Welker, the organization would have reason to offer Welker less the next time they sat across from each other at the bargaining table.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Welker had only three receptions for 52 yards in the regular season game versus the Texans, but each catch went for a first down.

But injuries to tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski meant the Patriots needed more from Welker. After Hernandez went down against the Arizona Cardinals in the second game of the season, Welker fulfilled New England’s “next-man-up” mantra, ripping off four straight 100-yard games from Weeks 3 to 6.

By the end of the season, the numbers were there, and Welker claimed two NFL records in the process: most 10-or-more reception games in a career and five 100-reception seasons.

The next time he and his representatives sit with Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio and senior football advisor Floyd Reese, Welker will have leverage thanks to his strong regular season and his fifth Pro Bowl selection.

But that’s months from now. Welker has some unfinished playoff business to take care of.

Opponents have been very effective at taking Welker out of the game in the playoffs. In seven playoff games, Welker eclipsed 100 yards receiving only once. That was an 11-catch 103 yards night in the Super Bowl XLI loss to the Giants.

Since then Welker’s postseason production has been small, having tallied no more than seven receptions and 60 yards receiving in a single playoff game.

But Welker’s impact can be greater than his stats would indicate. His catches often keep the chains moving. Running routes as effectively as he does can draw coverage, getting teammates open. His downfield blocking often means additional yards for Patriot running backs and fellow receivers.

Welker’s typical attention to detail has served him well this season, and it will mean that much more in the playoffs, beginning with the Houston Texans on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

Self-preservation and future contract talks haven't been a distraction for Welker. The Super Bowl XLVI drop, though, is motivation. Welker hopes he gets a chance to make up for that.

 

Questions? Comments? Send to randolphc82@comcast.net.

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