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INDIANAPOLIS (CBS) – Four years ago, it was a David Tyree circus catch that haunted the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
In 2012, it’s a drop by one of their best receivers.
With under five minutes left, and the Patriots facing a second-and-11 on the New York 44, Tom Brady went to the reliable Wes Welker, who has a knack for finding the first down marker.
He was well beyond that, and would have given the Patriots a great chance at eating more clock, and possibly holding on to their 17-15 lead.
Instead, the ball fell through his hands setting up a third-and-11 with 4:06 left. Brady threw an incomplete to Deion Branch and the Patriots had to punt with 3:46 remaining in the game.
A drive that lasted 5:31 resulted in no points on the board, and gave the ball back to the Giants.
Nine plays and 88 yards later, Ahmad Bradshaw fell back into the end zone to put give the Giants a 21-17 lead, and eventually their second Super Bowl in four season.
“It’s one I’ll have to deal with,” Welker said from the podium after the game, fighting back tears. ”I’ve made that play 1,000 times.”
“It hit me right in the hands. I mean, it’s a play I never drop,” he said. “Most critical situation and I let the team down.”
The pass was not perfect by any means, a little behind the receiver, but it’s a drop he will never live down.
“It’s a play I’ve got to bring in,” he said. “The ball is right there. I’ve just got to make the play.”
He finished with seven catches for 60 yards. His eighth would have made all the difference in the world.
But Welker’s quarterback is not blaming Welker for the loss.
“You win as a team, and you lose as a team. Certainly one play wasn’t the reason we lost,” Brady said. “He’s a competitor and I’ll keep throwing the ball to him as long as I can. He’s a phenomenal teammate.”
One thing to note; Welker’s playoff mustache was shaved immediately after the game.
Yes, there were certainly other plays left on the field that can be looked upon. Brady was called for intentional grounding which resulted in a safety on New England’s first offensive play. A too many men on the field penalty negated a Patriots fumble recovery. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich was flagged for an offsides penalty early in the fourth that gave the Giants five yards, and Eli Manning a chance to make amends for an incompletion to Victor Cruz. He did with 12 yards to Hakeem Nicks, and while the drive did not end in any points for the Giants, it killed nearly four minutes off the clock.
There were also two key non-receptions by Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez on the final drive, further dooming any chance at a comeback.
Drops happen, and it is hard to criticize Welker who has done a lot for the Patriots in his five seasons in New England. As Brady said, the loss is on the team, not an individual player.
But still, “what if” will always be in the minds of the Patriots and their fans when it comes to that play.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunities to miss out on. We definitely had ours and didn’t take advantage. I’m right there at the top of the list,” Welker said.
One way the Patriots can help Welker get over the pass he didn’t catch; a nice fat contract extension. The receiver is heading to free agency this off-season.
Even though he couldn’t make the play on the biggest stage, he has certainly earned it.