BOSTON (CBS) — One of the most important plays of Sunday’s AFC Championship Game didn’t come on a deep pass, a touchdown or an interception. It came on an incompletion.
Peyton Manning threw over the middle to Demaryius Thomas early in the second quarter, and the wide receiver dropped the pass. But behind the play, wide receiver Wes Welker collided at full speed with Aqib Talib, the Patriots’ top cornerback.
Talib, who battled a nagging hip injury this season, was left lying on the ground injured, and he did not return to the game.
On Monday morning, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addressed the media, and he discussed the play before any reporter even asked about it.
“It was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib,” Belichick said, not referencing Welker by name. “No attempt to get open. I’ll let the league handle the discipline on that, it’s not for me to decide.
“It was one of the worst plays I’ve seen. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.”
It was a break in character for Belichick to speak out against any one particular player, which indicates how strongly he felt about the play.
No penalty was called on Welker for the hit.
“I feel badly for Aqib, the way that play turned out,” Belichick said.
Welker is in his first year in Denver after spending six years playing for Belichick in New England. The receiver said he did not intend to hurt Talib on the play in question.
“It was one of those plays where it’s kind of a rub play, and I was trying to get [Talib] to go over the top, and I think he was thinking the same thing and wanted to come underneath, and we just kind of collided,” Welker explained on Sunday. “It wasn’t a deal where I was trying to hit him or anything like that. I hope he’s OK. He’s a great player and a big part of their defense.”
Welker left the Patriots via free agency last offseason after he spent the previous six seasons becoming the franchise leader in receptions (672) and racking up the second-most receiving yards in Patriots history (7,459). It was a peculiar exit, which left many questions regarding the relationship between Welker and Belichick. At least some of those questions were answered with Belichick’s comments on Monday.
Welker discussed his relationship with Belichick a bit in Sports Illustrated last summer.
“It was just kind of hard, one of those deals where you have to endure him, put up with him,” Welker said in August. “But he does it to everybody, it’s the way he is.”
Belichick disciplined Welker in the 2010 playoffs by keeping the receiver off the field for the first offensive series after Welker made a series of foot jokes to mock Jets coach Rex Ryan earlier that week. Last year, amid speculation that Welker was being “phased out” of the offense as part of Belichick’s strategy, Welker said jokingly on CSNNE that “it’s kind of nice to stick it in Bill’s face once in a while.”