Well played, Mr. Welker.
When Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker went through the middle and took out New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, he likely had one thing on his mind: winning a very important football game.
Sure, his history with the New England Patriots and seemingly hairy relationship with coach Bill Belichick is making this situation that much more interesting, but what Welker did Sunday afternoon in the second quarter — whether in your opinion the play was legal or not — was arguably the biggest play of the day for the AFC champion Broncos.
No matter what Belichick thinks, the hit was legal — just ask Mike Pereira. Was it dirty, though? If you want to call a clean hit on a suspecting player (Talib saw it coming and braced himself for contact) in a contact sport’s championship game “dirty,” then that’s your business. Just remember that the player laying the hit is 5-foot-9 and has a recent history of concussion issues and that his job isn’t to hit people — it’s to catch footballs and take hits.
Patriots fans are upset that Welker targeted Talib, who was undeniably New England’s top defensive player heading into the game. Why wouldn’t Welker — and his Broncos teammates — target him? Talib, who was playing through injuries, was a key factor in keeping Peyton Manning from going off. The Broncos’ secondary was depleted, too, so anything the Broncos could do to “even the playing field” had to be done.
Whether you want to use “targeting” or not, Welker and the Broncos had an opportunity to make the Patriots vulnerable, so they took it. In the Belichick era, the Patriots have been living by the credo of doing everything they can to give their team the advantage, and that includes exposing weaknesses.
If Welker was still on the Pats and this was a situation where the little fella cruised through the middle to lay a nice, legal hit on Darrelle Revis, he’d be applauded for his selfless and physical play. Heck, he might even receive some public praise from Belichick for sacrificing himself for the better of the team. For exposing a weakness. For playing tough.
But, since the tables are turned, Belichick attacked the issue head-on at his Monday press conference, and he opted to call out “the receiver” unsolicited.
“It was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib,” Belichick said, not referring to Welker by name. “No attempt to get open. I’ll let the league handle the discipline on that. It’s not for me to decide. It was one of the worst plays I’ve seen. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.”
Would it have been the worst play he had seen if it was Julian Edelman coming through the middle to lay a clean hit on Tony Carter or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie?
Welker finished with just four receptions for 38 yards. The Patriots and their fans were praying he’d be stuck with numbers like these after this one, but the speedy wideout, once again, proved to New England football fans that he’s a game-changer.
Photo via Twitter/@JoeGiza