To put it bluntly, this is why you sit your starters in meaningless games.
The New England Patriots entered Sunday's match-up with the determined Houston Texans at 10-5, as division champs, and with a chip on their shoulder.
They should have quit while they were ahead. Literally .
But even before the game took a turn and all of Houston saw (at least for another three hours) a decent shot at the postseason, the Patriots' entire fan base saw their worst nightmare.
Wide receiver Wes Welker sustained what ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported as being a tear of both the ACL and MCL ligaments in his knee.
Welker was injured on a first quarter play, was escorted to the sidelines, and did not return to the game.
To get a good idea of what Welker means to this Patriots offense, and just as important, Tom Brady, one needs to look no further than the game against the Texans, where Brady struggled without his money-man underneath, throwing for under 200 yards, no scores, and a pick in over three quarters of play.
But if you're a logical fan, and better yet, a hopeful New England supporter, more proof will surely be needed.
Earlier in the season, while many discounted Tom Brady's early struggles to rust and his inability to feel completely comfortable inside the pocket (something about a knee injury), it was painfully obvious that Brady was actually desperately missing a twice absent Welker, while also working with a Welker that was battling a knee injury through the first five weeks.
We're talking about a guy who has recorded at least 111 receptions and 1,000+ yards in every season as a Patriot. This is the guy who would have been the Super Bowl MVP in 2007 if Plaxico Burress and David Tyree didn't put their comeback hats on.
This is the guy that gets no respect. He's the receiver who is "basically a running back." He isn't fast. He isn't Randy Moss. Julian Edelman did well while he was out, so "quite clearly," he's replaceable.
What people don't realize is that Welker isn't just "effective" or a receiver with great hands. He moves the chains at an elite rate, and simply racks up yardage after the catch.
On a team with a sketchy rushing attack, Welker does take the form of a running back, although it's viewed as an extreme positive, rather than a knock on his ability to play the position.
While Edelman, who caught 10 balls for 103 yards in place of Welker on Sunday, is an adequate replacement in the slot, it's more than arguable that no one can actually "replace" Welker.
At least, not fully.
Unfortunately for Welker, Brady, and the rest of this New England offense, however, the former Kent State quarterback will have to try.
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