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Will Wes Welker’s Patriots Legacy Ever Match Troy Brown’s?

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
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Wes Welker and Troy Brown (Photos by Winslow Townson/Elsa/Getty Images)

Wes Welker and Troy Brown (Photos by Winslow Townson/Elsa/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — In an era filled with three Super Bowls, a Hall of Fame quarterback and one of the best coaches in the history of the game, it says a lot about Troy Brown that he’s earned the nickname “Mr. Patriot.” The eight-round pick out of Division I-AA Marshall defied all odds to not just make the team but become one of the most prolific receivers in franchise history, and he’ll be honored for his 15-year career as a Patriot with his induction into the team’s Hall of Fame this weekend.

Brown’s resume need not be read to understand his value to the Patriots franchise, yet as current Patriots receiver Wes Welker approaches several of Brown’s records, it’s worth wondering what exactly will be No. 83′s legacy in New England.

Consider that Brown enters the Patriots’ Hall of Fame with 557 catches for 6,366 yards and 31 receiving touchdowns.

Through one game of his sixth season in New England, Welker has 557 catches for 6,119 yards and 31 touchdowns.

Where Brown set himself apart was as a punt returner (2,625 yards and 3 TDs, compared to Welker’s 942 yards and 0 TDs), and he also has three Super Bowl rings to his name. While Welker can’t say the same, he can say he was part of the most prolific offense in NFL history (2007), he caught 111 passes for 1,165 yards in a full season with a backup quarterback making the throws, and he led the league in receptions over a five-year period.

So assuming he makes another catch and gains a couple of hundred more yards, will Welker be remembered as a greater Patriot than Mr. Patriot himself?

The answer has to be no, but that doesn’t mean Welker isn’t in the middle of carving out his own spot in the team’s Hall of Fame. And he said himself that he owes some of that success to Brown.

“Obviously, Troy is probably going to go down as the best receiver to ever play with the Patriots. When I first came here, all I did was watch film of Troy and how he played the Z position here and all the things that he was able to do,” Welker said Monday. “He’s such a great player.

“I definitely picked up a bunch from him when I first came here” Welker added. “That first year there, we pretty much sat right next to each other. He was such a great teammate, bringing me along and helping me out and making sure that I was on top of everything I needed to do. He was a very unselfish guy like that.”

That unselfishness shined through with Brown many times during his Patriots career, whether it was his work on special teams or his willingness to step in as a defensive back, where he made a season-saving play in the 2006 playoffs in San Diego.

While it would be wildly unfair to somehow criticize Welker for not playing defense (on Monday, he said he would if he needed to), it would be a major knock on Welker’s New England career if it only lasts six seasons. He’s playing under the franchise tag now, making more money ($9.5 million) than Brown ever did, but he wants a long-term deal. With the Patriots seemingly ignoring that request and instead signing tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to multi-year extensions, the future of the 31-year-old receiver in New England remains in question.

By some measures, Welker’s already accomplished more than Brown. Welker’s been selected to four Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams, he’s twice won the Ed Block Courage Award, and he’s led the entire league in receptions in three seasons and yards in one. Brown was selected to one Pro Bowl and All-Pro team and won the Ed Block Courage Award once. In New England, though, it is the presence of those three Super Bowl championships on Brown’s resume which Patriots fans appreciate far more than any individual accolade.

Brown certainly was no passenger in those Super Bowl victories, either. He led the team with six receptions for 89 yards in Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams. In fact, only one other receiver made the stat sheet in that game, and it was David Patten for his one catch (granted, that was a rather large one). Brown made the crucial catch-and-run with 29 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to gain 23 yards, stop the clock and get the team into field goal territory for the winning kick.

Two years later against the Panthers, Brown caught eight passes for 76 yards, including two catches of 13 yards each on the game-winning drive. The following year against the Eagles, he caught two passes for 17 yards.

Welker has been a part of two Super Bowls, and he was arguably the MVP in his first appearance in 2007. Though the Patriots lost 17-14 and were denied in their undefeated bid, Welker’s performance of 11 catches for 103 yards is often forgotten. In that high-flying ’07 offense, Welker had nearly twice as many yards as the next-leading receiver (Randy Moss, 62).

In his second Super Bowl appearance, Welker contributed with seven catches for 60 yards. That’s hardly a disappointing performance, but everyone knows that had Welker finished with eight catches for 84 yards, the Patriots would have been champions once again. One drop, though, cannot erase an entire career’s worth of spectacular play.

Statistics aside, where Welker matches Brown is his commitment to playing the game. Nobody absorbs more devastating hits than Welker, yet nobody pops up back to his feet faster. When Welker tore his ACL and MCL in the final week of the ’09 season, it was considered overly optimistic for anyone to expect him back by Week 8 or 9 of the following season. Of course, being Welker, he was back for Week 1 … and he caught eight passes for 64 yards and two touchdowns. Of course he did.

Perhaps where Brown and Welker share the biggest similarity is simply in their reliability, which in the age of Belichick is just about the best compliment a Patriots player can be given. From 1995-2006, Brown averaged 14 games per season, while Welker has missed just three games in his five years.

Regardless of his future, and regardless of any perceptions about his contract demands, the fact remains that what Welker has done in New England will presumably continue doing in New England is largely unprecedented and in some ways surpasses the accomplishments of Mr. Patriot, Troy Brown.

He may not end up in the Patriots’ Hall of Fame, but with all the overblown talk of contract disputes and dropped Super Bowl catches, it’s important to take a minute Sunday and appreciate exactly what you’re seeing in Welker. With the work of Brown still burned into our collective recent memory, it may not seem it right now, but that type of player just doesn’t come around too often.

Read more from Michael by clicking here, or follow him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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