Let me begin by stating the obvious: the loss of Wes Welker to injury is an incredible blow to the Patriots.
He and Tom Brady had a connection like few other QB-WR tandems in the history of the league. They always seemed in concert, and Welker was able to get open nearly at will.
Welker, in fact, made up for a ridiculously large percentage of this team's offensive output.
Now, after one catastrophic play, it's all gone. Even if Welker should return from this injury, it's no sure thing that he can once again regain the form that made him the driving force of this offense.
In the aftermath of this painful event, it's natural to question whether Welker should have been starting in the first place. After all, the distinction between the third and fourth seed in the playoffs (the only thing up for question in Sunday's game) is an exceedingly fine one.
Shouldn't, then, Welker have been benched?
The answer is a resounding no.
Last week in this space, I argued that the Patriots needed to treat the Texans game as if it did matter—in other words, that they should play their starters and play to win.
This week, even in light of what happened, I stand by my assessment. Playing the starters was the right thing to do for the team, even if it didn't turn out well. The team needed to gain some momentum heading into the postseason, even if it had to risk injury to do so.
Of course, had Bill Belichick known what would happen during the game, he probably would've sat Welker. Then again, if Belichick had the gift of prescience, he'd likely be doing something more important than coaching a football team.
The fact remains that this incident was a fluke—it was not the result of any hard hit but of mere chance. It would be impossible to manage a team in a way that would avoid this type of accident. To do so would only gain one surefire result: losses.
All this, of course, doesn't change the fact that the team is now without one of its top playmakers.
What will the Patriots look like without Welker? I'd imagine this team would rely more on its ground game, which is made up of quite a few talented backs.
Brady will also be forced to distribute the ball more equally. Although many have touted Julian Edelman as a replacement for Welker, he hasn't yet gained Brady's full trust. Instead, look to see increased touches for Benjamin Watson, Randy Moss, Sam Aiken, and Chris Baker.
The Patriots are by no means done, but the loss of Welker does make the path to the Super Bowl considerably steeper. Hopefully, this team will recognize that it no longer has the margin for error it once had.