The biggest play of the night was a devastating drop by Wes Welker late in the fourth quarter that would have all but sealed up a fourth Super Bowl for the franchise. The drop left many to wonder about the free-agent-to-be’s future in New England — including this despised sports writer, and whether he would be a building block for Patriots teams of the future.
A franchise tag and signed contract later, Welker was back in New England and looking to make good on his opportunity.
On Sunday, Welker once again proved why his place in the Patriots’ offense is as vital as ever and why he needs to stay in New England beyond this season.
On a day when the Patriots’ offense was just unable to find a rhythm, Welker served as the lone catalyst. His sharp route running and quickness kept the Dolphins’ defense on their toes and provided the Patriots with at least some semblance of a spark.
By halftime, Welker already had 10 of his 12 catches, over 80 yards and scored a touchdown to give the Patriots their seven-point cushion. The performance put Welker in some elite company, too. Sunday marked Welker’s 17th time with 10 or more catches, tying him with Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice for the most all-time.
Welker now also leads the NFL with 92 catches, and with four games remaining that number may even exceed the career-high 123 he set back in 2009.
His dip into the history books has nothing to do with Welker’s presence in New England. Nor does the fact that he eclipsed 1,000-yards receiving for the fifth time in six seasons with the Patriots. Rather, it’s times like Sunday where you have to look beyond just the numbers to understand Welker’s value.
At a time when nothing was working for Tom Brady and the offense, Welker was there to pick up the slack. He didn’t break the game open with an 80-yard grab like Rob Gronkowski might, and he didn’t run off for 50 yards like Stevan Ridley. Instead, Welker served his role, catching passes across the middle, piling up first downs and putting points on the board.
Some may look at Brady’s precision down the stretch or Ridley’s outburst in the second half as the key to the Patriots’ success. But make no mistake about it, just as it’s been for much of the season, Welker was the most vital piece to the Patriots’ offense on Sunday.
There’s still at least five games left to be played before the Patriots need to make a decision on Welker’s future. But at the rate he’s been performing this season, there’s no logic in thinking that Bill Belichick and company should do anything but keep him around.
As my favorite fictional receiver Rod Tidwell might say “show him the money.”
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