Of course, he was battling a knee injury that has limited his workload since training camp, and it was severe enough to cause Welker to miss his first two games due to injury in his career. More than that, though, Welker hated watching games and practices, and it truly ate away at him when he missed New England's Week 2 loss to the New York Jets and the team's Week 3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
"It felt good," Welker said Sunday, when he returned to the lineup for the first time since the opener against the Buffalo Bills. "It's been a pretty depressing two weeks leading up to this, so finally being able to get out there was a good deal for me."
Welker caught a team-high six passes for 48 yards during the Patriots' 27-21 victory Sunday against the previously undefeated Baltimore Ravens. The Gillette Stadium crowd showered him with cheers when he hauled in his first catch of the afternoon, a 10-yard reception that led to a first down.
The Patriots offense also moved with more fluidity with Welker, who has a great ability to read defenses and run routes to the appropriate spots on the field. As a result, the Ravens' blitzes hardly affected quarterback Tom Brady, who was constantly rattled by the Jets' pressure two weeks before.
It's also no coincidence that Welker's return came on the same day when Randy Moss caught his first touchdown of the season. The play came on an all-out blitz that left Moss in single coverage, a luxury he rarely had when defenses didn't have to worry about Welker.
Welker said he felt like his timing and rhythm were "pretty good" and that he was working well with Brady.
"I've been in this offense for a few years now," said Welker, who caught an NFL-high 223 passes combined in 2007 and 2008. "I understand the concepts and what we're going to see and the type of coverages they're going to run. For the most part, I feel like I was all right."
Welker missed one game during his rookie season in 2004, but it was because the San Diego Chargers cut him after Week 1, and he didn't sign with the Miami Dolphins until after their game in Week 2. Considering the amount of hits he takes while catching passes over the middle and making plays on special teams, his durability is a pretty serious accomplishment.
"It's been really hard — really hard — not being able to get out there and play," Welker said. "Not only not to get out there and play, but practice and things like that. It's been tough. It's very encouraging to get back out there with the fellas."
"Wes is one of the toughest guys I've ever been around," Patriots running back Sammy Morris said. "He makes those plays. He's so quick off the ball and makes a smart read."
Welker, who is one of eight players in NFL history to record back-to-back 100-catch seasons, has 18 receptions for 141 yards in two games this season. The Patriots are averaging 26 points per game this season with Welker in the lineup and 17.5 points per game when he's on the sideline.
The 28-year-old said he believed all week he'd be available to play against the Ravens, but he still had to make sure his knee would hold up after practices and then again Sunday morning before kickoff. Welker said there were no setbacks during the game against the Ravens, and he'll continue with his treatment to keep himself ready to play against the Denver Broncos next Sunday.
"I felt good," Welker said. "Not at my best, but enough to get out there and make some plays and help us win."
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