BOSTON (CBS) – After the Patriots season opener, there were some questions surrounding the playing time of receiver Wes Welker.
His role seemed diminished, with the Patriots veering towards their tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (hard to argue with that), but many chalked it up to it being one game into a new season. Matchups would change game-to-game and Welker’s role would likely return to what Patriots fans have become used to — Welker on the field for nearly every snap and one of Tom Brady’s main targets.
But once again, that was not the case in Sunday’s 20-18 loss at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals. Welker started the game on the bench, and served as New England’s third wide receiver behind Brandon Lloyd and Julian Edelman on the depth chart.
Welker ended up playing 63 snaps on Sunday, according to ESPNBoston.com’s Mike Reiss, with Edelman on the field for 75. More surprising is when the Patriots were in a two-receiver set, it was Edelman who saw the bulk of the action alongside Lloyd, taking 15 of 18 snaps to Welker’s three. All of that came with Hernandez going down early in the first quarter as well.
Welker said after the game there is no injury holding him back, and still backed Bill Belichick’s decisions.
“You want to be out there. I think as a competitor and everything else, especially on Sundays, it’s what we play for and what we work for and you want to be out there,” said Welker, who finished the game with five receptions for a team-high 95 yards. “At the same time, Coach felt like whatever was best for the team and I’m for that and I totally understand that and I’m just there to help out however I can.”
Welker was targeted 11 times on Sunday, second behind Lloyd’s 13. Imagine how low that number would have been if Hernandez had not gotten hurt.
Quarterback Tom Brady didn’t have any answers for the personnel switch following the loss, saying all of that is up to their coach.
“Like I said, those three guys rotate a lot, so there are plays that Julian is in there for; there are a lot of plays that Wes is in there for,” said Brady. “I love both those guys and they both work really hard. That’s always coach’s decision; who’s out there, that’s not really my decision.”
For now, it appears Welker has fallen out of favor in the Patriots eyes. Whether it’s the Pats trying to send his free agent stock down or simply playing a better matchups remains to be seen. Maybe Edelman impressed more last week in practice and earned his snaps. Maybe there was a matchup against Arizona that Belichick liked more with Edelman on the field. There’s also a chance Welker lost some time thanks to drops, which he’s had a number in the season’s first two games. Whatever it was, Welker sat on the sidelines to start the game, and at other key points throughout.
All of this could change in an instant. There is little doubt that in one game, Welker could get back to being the receiver that led the NFL in receptions the last five years. It won’t take much for him and Brady to click once again, and now that Hernandez is likely lost for 4-6 weeks with a high ankle sprain, Welker could see his role increase in the coming weeks.
He just has to be on the field for it to happen.