FOXBORO (CBS) — Wes Welker will go down in Patriots history as one of the best receivers in franchise history, but for much of the evening on Sunday, he was just another player on the opposing team.
Welker neither received a standing ovation or a round of boos from the Gillette Stadium crowd, his first as a visitor since before his days in a Patriots uniform. But he finally caught the fans’ attention in overtime when he was back deep to field a punt, with the crowd chanting “Wellll-kerrrr, Wellll-kerrrr” in hopes of forcing a miscue.
It didn’t work that time, but the fans got what they wanted seven minutes later.
Welker awaited a punt from Ryan Allen with 3:11 left in overtime, but he decided to let the ball bounce. He waved his arms and yelled “Peter” in order to tell his teammates to run away from the area, but he apparently didn’t yell loud enough. Tony Carter ran right into the ball’s path, the punt hit his leg, and Pats special teamer Nate Ebner pounced on the loose ball.
Three plays later, Stephen Gostkowski hit a chip shot of a field goal to win the game for New England.
“Basically, I didn’t want to get into a situation where somebody is running into me or anything else, and ended up with the situation that I didn’t want to happen in the first place,” Welker said after the 34-31 loss for his Broncos. “I’ve got to do a better job of getting up there and getting those guys out of the way and make sure it doesn’t hit ’em.
“I gotta get to him earlier and tell [Carter], and get those guys out of the way if I’m not going to make the catch,” Welker added. “I was a little bit in between, and you can’t be that way.”
The veteran receiver said he didn’t really notice the fans’ taunts in overtime.
“I wasn’t sure what they were saying,” Welker said of the sing-song chanting of his name. “I was just trying to concentrate on my job.”
Welker was mostly a non-factor in the game, as Knowshon Moreno (224 rushing yards) did most of the heavy lifting for the Broncos’ offense. Welker caught four passes for 31 yards, picking up two first downs. He did have a drop in the fourth quarter, drawing a loud cheer from the Gillette Stadium crowd.
When the Broncos took the field before the game, the Patriots played Welker’s highlights on the video boards, including the receiver’s big catches and touchdowns, as well as a few clips of Welker getting hit hard and getting back up. At the end of the video, the screens said, “The Kraft family, the New England Patriots and Patriots fans thank Wes Welker for six memorable seasons.”
Welker was playing catch at the time, and there was not much reaction from the crowd, but Welker said he appreciated the gesture.
“It was very classy of them to do something like that, and I appreciate it very much,” Welker said.
He also caught up with Patriots owner Robert Kraft before the game and head coach Bill Belichick after the game.
“It was a little different, for sure. But it was great seeing Mr. Kraft,” Welker said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a man, and as an owner of a team, and as everything else. He’s a good one.”
In an interview earlier this week, Welker said he expected any potential meeting with Belichick to be “awkward,” but that didn’t turn out to be the case.
“I did, I saw him after the game. It wasn’t awkward at all,” Welker said. “It was good to see him. I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a coach, and he did a great job tonight of getting those guys ready.”
As for any meeting with Tom Brady, Welker joked the QB was too Hollywood to have time for him on the field.
“I kind of looked for him, but he’s Mr. Paparazzi after games, so I didn’t get a chance,” Welker said. “It was good to see [other former teammates]. I was teammates with a lot of those guys for a long time, and it was good to see them.”
Welker, 32, was traded from the Dolphins to the Patriots in 2007. He played six seasons with the Patriots, catching 672 passes for 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns. He has more receptions than any other Patriots player, with Troy Brown’s 557 receptions far behind in second place, and he ranks second all time in franchise history in receiving yards, trailing only Stanley Morgan.
He became a free agent after the 2012 season and his negotiations with the Patriots for a new contract could be described as icy at best. He ended up signing with the Broncos in March, joining forces with Peyton Manning.
Welker entered Sunday’s game having already tied his career high for touchdowns in a season (9) while making 61 catches for 648.
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