BOSTON (CBS) — A lot has changed over the years with the Patriots, but the constant reliable has been the connection between Tom Brady and Wes Welker.
If the season opener against Tennessee is any indication, though, things might be a little different this year.
Welker had just three catches for 14 yards in the team’s Week 1 win over the Titans, and he was targeted just five times (one of those targets was a pass that bounced off his face mask). While a low statistical output alone wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, it was Welker’s playing time — or lack thereof — that looks rather curious.
ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss broke down how many snaps each player took on Sunday, and he noted that Welker was in for just 64.2 percent of the team’s offensive plays, with Julian Edelman playing in 34.3 percent. Reiss said that last year, Welker played in 89.2 percent.
It’s noteworthy, given Welker’s contract situation this past offseason. He signed the franchise tender with the hope that the team would reward him with the security of a long-term deal, but the Patriots apparently did not seem too interested in committing to a 31-year-old receiver who’s taken as much of a beating as Welker.
Still, such a drastic cut in playing time is a rather sharp change of course for Tom Brady’s offense. Since 2007, the duo has played 60 games together (excluding their one quarter together in 2008 and the one drive Welker was a part of before getting injured in Week 17 of 2009). In those 60 games, Welker has caught an average of 7.4 catches and 82 yards per game. Even with the emergence of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as All Pro-level offensive threats, Welker still caught 7.6 passes for 98.1 yards per game in the regular season, and then 6.3 passes for 56 yards per game in the playoffs.
The change in playing time could mean the Patriots will use Welker less this season, or it could mean they don’t want him to take too many hits early in the year, or it could mean they’re plotting an evil trade of some kind, or, more likely, it could mean absolutely nothing. Still, after Week 1, it’s something to keep an eye on through the early part of this season.