BOSTON (CBS) — We just can’t go very long without talking about Wes Welker this season.
Whether it’s contract talks, phase-out plans (real or imagined) or jokes aimed at the head coach, No. 83 has been topic No. 1 when it comes to the 2012 Patriots.
While he’s kept sports radio hosts and callers busy and helped spur some discussions at watering holes throughout New England, the only thing of consequence that Welker has done has been simple.
He’s been Wes Welker.
After catching just three passes in the season opener, many fans and media members began the speculation train that Welker’s days in a Patriots uniform were numbered. Despite the fact that placing the franchise tag on Welker was a decision the team actually made itself, many folks believed the team was upset with Welker for signing it. As a result of that horrific misdeed, Bill Belichick decided to “phase out” Welker from the offense, replacing him with Julian Edelman (who had one catch for 7 yards that day).
That story lived on through the next week, even though Welker caught five passes for 95 yards … which would have been considered a career day for Edelman. Because it was Welker, though, and because Welker didn’t start and was on the field less often on running plays, the phasing out of Welker remained the topic du jour.
Well, here we are exactly one month after that Week 1 game in Tennessee, and Welker ranks first among all Patriots with 38 receptions (10 more than any other teammate), first among all Patriots with 52 targets (seven more than any other teammate) and first among all Patriots with 484 receiving yards (163 more than any other teammate). He ranks second, seventh and sixth in the NFL in those same categories, respectively, and his average production per week since The Grand Phase-Out Plan of 2012 was unveiled has been 8.75 catches for 117.5 yards.
In other words, Wes Welker has been exactly who Wes Welker has been since 2007.
There are reasons for this production beyond Welker’s own skills and resume, of course. Injuries to Edelman and Aaron Hernandez have no doubt caused Tom Brady to look in Welker’s direction more often. But that doesn’t really matter. As Belichick said himself last year, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, then it would be Christmas every day.
What does matter is what actually takes place on the field, and through five games, Welker’s proven those overreacting to one week of low statistical output to be very, very wrong.
That was true immediately, though, as five minutes of simple research would have uncovered the fact that Welker had eight games in the previous two seasons in which he caught four or fewer passes and 45 or fewer receiving yards.
Despite a two-catch, 22-yard day against Kansas City and a four-catch, 41-yard day against Denver last year, Welker managed to finish first in the NFL in receptions and second in yards.
Despite a three-catch, 24-yard day against Minnesota, a three-catch, 42-yard day against Green Bay and a three-catch, 19-yard day against Buffalo in 2010, he still managed to finish the season sixth in receptions and still turned in a seven-catch performance in the team’s lone playoff game.
Despite playing just 13 games plus one quarter of another in 2009, and despite a four-catch, 40-yard week, Welker still finished first in receptions and second in yards in the entire league.
And in those games since 2010 when Welker was held to four or fewer catches, the Patriots are 8-1. Suffice it to say that opposing defenses game-planned to take Welker out of the equation, thereby leaving themselves vulnerable to other players, and Brady simply made them pay. No phase-out necessary.
This year, despite that three-catch, 14-yard performance in Week 1, he’s still on pace to make 122 catches for 1,549 yards. His average season output since joining the Patriots in 2007? That would be 111 catches for 1,221 yards. If he does fulfill that statistical projection, he’ll finish one catch and 20 yards shy of career highs.
So what are we all doing here? Why is Welker a weekly conduit for contrived controversy?
Well, in one simple word, we’re overreacting. In most NFL cities, people would be discussing Welker topping the 100-yard mark in three consecutive weeks rather than focus on an innocuous comment. However, that’s just par for the course this season.
The firestorm that took place after Welker’s Week 1 was preposterous, considering he had similar games in the past. The chatter of a potential holdout in training camp was just as foolish, because as much as he wants to get paid, Welker just is not that guy. If he were that guy, he’d have held out long ago. After being the most underpaid receiver in football for several years, holding out now that he’s actually making fair money would be odd timing for a sudden change in character.
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And right in line with most of the other Welker story lines of the past six months, discussion of Welker’s joke about “sticking it in Bill’s face” is being blown far out of proportion. True, it’s newsworthy when a player pokes fun at a head coach, particularly one as famous and serious as Belichick. But remember, that’s the same coach who asked Welker, while watching Julian Edelman play well as a rookie in 2009, if he’s ever heard of Wally Pipp. That was a joke.
Welker’s joke this week was also made during the weekly interview in which Ty Law, Troy Brown and Mike Felger have tried their darndest to get Welker to speak out against the team for limiting his playing time, with Welker never obliging, perhaps because he knew their theories weren’t accurate.
This time, he played along with the hosts’ prodding, and it resulted in yet another overblown Welker story.
What till the next uncontroversial Welker controversy be? That’s anyone’s guess, but the only thing that really matters — for Wes, the Patriots, and everyone else — is that Welker is performing like he always does. That’s the only story that counts toward winning football games.