Wes Welker Takes Hits, Carries New England Patriots

Ryan BurnsAnalyst IDecember 9, 2008

What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, right?

Patriots wideout Wes Welker has been living that motto for his entire career, but in recent weeks, he has shown his grit by taking vicious hit after vicious hit and coming back to contribute to the Patriots' offense.

Against the Dolphins, Welker took a hit and was momentarily dazed. However, he was able to return to the game and help the Patriots pick up a huge division win versus their foes from Miami. 

The worst was yet to come.

In the Patriots' rain-soaked loss to Pittsburgh at home, Welker was the victim of a bone-crushing hit after the play was over. The hit made football fans across the country cringe, but a fine was not levied against Ryan Clark, the Steeler who made the hit. Did Welker complain? Of course not. 

Many people assert that Randy Moss is the Patriots' most dangerous weapon, and in many games, he is. But if there is a go-to guy on this team, it is clearly Welker.  (I will refrain from using the term "slot machine," as the CBS announce team beat that term to death during Sunday's game against the Seahawks.)

Welker was the star of the show on Sunday, picking up huge catches and making plays with his feet to move the ball down the field.  Patriots fans have became enamored with Matt Cassel's recent success and gaudy numbers, but may have overlooked the fact that Welker's YAC (yards after catch) are a big part of Cassel's statline.

While Welker only has one touchdown this year, he has 96 receptions for 1,002 yards.  This is coming after he set a Patriots record for catches in a season last year, a record that he may be able to break this season. 

Consider these numbers in relation to Cassel's maturity as a quarterback. 

In the last five games, he has caught for over 100 yards in four of them, with the only blemish coming against the Steelers' top ranked defense. He set a season high against the Seahawks with 134 yards on 12 catches and has proven that he does not need to run deep routes to be effective. 

So, he only has one touchdown to show for it. No matter, he is not the type of guy who complains about lack of scoring. To Welker, winning is the most important stat, a mindset that is contagious on this Patriots team.

However, simply looking at the boxscore does not give a fan a true glimpse at how important Welker is to this team. He makes plays at the most opportune times and moves the chains when they absolutely have to, proving that his impact is bigger than stats.

Welker was a huge part of the win in Seattle and will have to contribute just as much down the stretch, as the magnitude of December football rears its head. The Patriots probably have to go 3-0 over their next three games and get some help in order to grab a playoff spot, and believe me, Welker will be Cassel's favorite target, especially in close games.

Sure, Matt Cassel has looked great in recent weeks, but a lot of that is due to the fact that he has a guy out there in Welker who gives 110 percent every single snap.  Welker does all the little things necessary to win games and, in the words of John Madden, is just "a football player." 

Randy Moss may be more exciting, but Welker is the Patriots' true playmaker.