The Patriots' dynamite wide receiver returned to the field Thursday night in Atlanta and made an instant impact during New England's 28-10 victory against the Falcons. Welker played in one series and caught two passes for 20 yards.
Quarterback Tom Brady threw the ball in Welker's direction during the wideout's first three plays on the field. On his first snap, Welker caught a dump over the middle for six yards, and instead of hitting the deck, Welker tried to extend the play and took a couple of whacks. He also got hit in the left knee on his way down — not a dangerous hit, but a hit to the surgically repaired joint nonetheless — but popped straight back up.
On the very next play, Welker ran a seam route out of the right slot and caught a pass for a 14-yard gain that moved the chains, negating Stephen Neal's first-down holding penalty that put the Patriots in an early hole. Then, on Welker's third snap, Brady tried to connect with the hearty receiver on a quick screen to the left, but the pass fell to the turf as he took another hard hit.
All in all, it was a good debut for Welker, who tore up his knee just seven and a half months ago. He instantly showed toughness and was willing to take a hit, which is a sign that he's willing to play with the same fire and passion that has turned him into one of the best football players in the league.
It was mildly surprising to see Welker in uniform Thursday, but the Patriots have to be thrilled with his usage. He got one good series of action that will help pave the way for more and more reps over the next two preseason games.
The Sept. 12 regular-season opener is three weeks away, and there is no longer any uncertainty about Welker's availability.