BOSTON (CBS) — Why can’t a win simply be a win? Do we just have to turn every little thing into a grand conspiracy?
The answer is obviously yes, at least this week in the case of Wes Welker.
Welker, in case you somehow are unaware, catches a lot of passes from Tom Brady. In fact, since 2007, the 5-foot-9 (in heels, maybe) receiver has caught more passes than any other human being in the NFL. He’s made exactly one big mistake (Super Bowl drop), and he didn’t get the long-term deal he wanted from the Patriots this summer, but he is still, presumably, the same person and player who caught all those passes for the past five seasons.
Yet now, after a Week 1 output that falls short of his usual production, and after he played in fewer snaps than usual, conspiracies abound. Are the Patriots “phasing out” Welker from the offense?! Was Welker benched for letting a first-quarter pass bounce off his facemask? Are the Patriots already in talks with other teams to trade Welker?!
Do we really need to address these questions? Apparently, we do, as several media outlets have taken the “story” and run with it.
Let’s start with the first question about “phasing out” Welker. First of all, what would that even entail and what would be the benefit? The purpose of playing football is to win games; removing one of your most dynamic receiving threats will help you toward that goal … how? Should they “phase out” Tom Brady so that Ryan Mallett will some day be able to play, too? Find me a good reason for any team to “phase out” a receiver who’s getting paid $9.5 million, and I’ll listen. Until then, I’m going to go ahead and dismiss your theory.
Next, there is the idea that a simple dropped pass would be enough to warrant a full-fledged benching from Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels. Remember, this is the man who entered Sunday’s game with 650 career regular-season catches, 554 of which came in a Patriots uniform, and 53 postseason catches, all of which have come with the Patriots. He has what you might call a decent resume, and over the years (whether it was by fearlessly going over the middle, popping up after nearly getting his head knocked off, miraculously missing zero weeks of the 2010 season after tearing knee ligaments in Week 17 of ’09, etc.) he’s built up a certain level of respect from the team. If you think one drop in the first quarter of the first game is enough for the coaching staff to tell Welker to get comfortable on the bench, then I honestly fear what types of things your brain can imagine. I truly fear what will happen to Brady if he ever throws an interception, or to Rob Gronkowski if he fumbles in the red zone.
Then, somehow, there is the trade. Now, after watching the Patriots ship Randy Moss out of town after his “Weight of Da ‘Erf” speech, I’m not saying this idea is completely unfathomable. Surely, nothing is impossible when it comes to the way Belichick runs his football team … but that doesn’t mean you start thinking a wild idea is likely or probable. I’ll admit that the noticeable drop in snaps was an interesting nugget of information, but it would be reckless to conclude anything other than “It will be something to monitor over the next few weeks.”
If you’re interested in real, ration explanations for the shocking day of Welker (which was still three catches, by the way), McDaniels offered one on Tuesday. It’s a little lengthy, but credit to him for logically explaining that which really doesn’t need to be logically explained.
“I think the game plan each week is really different,” McDaniels said. “We definitely had some personnel groupings, I don’t know how many exact number of snaps, but we played quite a few snaps of three tight ends in the game at the same time. Then we played some two tight ends with two running backs in the game at the same time. Each week, we try to make the decision on what groupings or what personnel matchups may give us, whether it’s an advantage or not, we don’t know. But we maybe try to quiet the game down a little bit or take advantage of a situation we think we can take advantage of. We kind of decide those on a week-to-week basis. Certainly Wes had some opportunities in the game and made the most of a few of those. Then we had some other opportunities we didn’t quite hit. Wes’ role is the same as we’ve always gone. We’ll go each week and try to do what we think is best to help us win. Sometimes that may include playing more multiple tight ends. Sometimes it might be playing a lot more receivers. We kind of try to feel that out as we go through our preparation and then make the decisions that go along with it.”
If that was too much for you, I’ll cut it down to one line: It was one game.
A receiver catches three passes on five targets in a 34-13 win and it’s being treated like a national emergency. Where was the outrage when Welker caught two passes and was targeted just three times against Kansas City last year? Were they phasing him out then, too? If so, why did he catch eight passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns the following week against Philadelphia? And why did he catch 11 passes for 110 the week after that?
Consider the facts: In the past two seasons, Welker has finished a game with four or fewer receptions eight times. He never recorded more than 45 receiving yards in any of those games. He scored exactly zero touchdowns in those games. The Patriots went 7-1 in those games.
It’s much more likely that in those games, defenses spent extra energy stopping Welker, so Brady (being Brady) looked elsewhere. Based on the 7-1 record, it sure seems like a winning strategy. You may have lost a fantasy football game along the way, but the Patriots could not care less about that. They play real football, and sometimes in the course of a real football game, you throw it one guy more than another.
So what makes more sense to you: The Patriots trying to rid themselves of one of the best receivers in football, or the offense simply taking what is being given by the defense?
You know the answer, so let’s just close the book on this one, shall we?