EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 30, 2008

Welker was Patriots '08 MVP

He has taken over as poster boy for franchise

Bill Burt

Of all the impressive stats that New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker methodically gathered by the official end of his season at 3:46 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, and there are a litany of them, one sticks out:


That's the number of catches he made, 10 of which were near the middle of the field, the game after "the hit."

You remember "the hit," don't you?

It was the end of the third quarter on Nov. 30. That was when Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark dove directly at the upper chest area of Welker, who had slowed down and turned his head as the tipped ball hit the ground.

Henry, though, didn't stop. He finished his upwards dive and Welker went down hard, lying on his back for about a half-minute, appearing to be in "concussion" mode.

While Clark was flagged for 15 yards, for "unnecessary roughness" after leaving his feet to make an upper body hit. The hit was "legal." But that is not be confused with being "clean." It was a classic cheap shot.

At first glance, it appeared Welker would fall into line, behind Tom Brady, Adalius Thomas, Laurence Maroney and Rodney Harrison, as other key performers gone for a long, long time.

In fact, my first thought was Darryl Stingley, who was paralyzed after taking a shot to the head from ex-Raider Jack Tatum during an exhibition game in 1978.

But Welker was moving his extremities, every so slightly. He got up after the cheap shot and walked gingerly to the sideline.

He never finished the game, which ended up being a blowout. But impressively, he was the only person with a touch of Patriots blood in them who didn't complain about the cheap shot. In fact, he said he had no issues with Clark.

Then, a week later and with doctor's note, he played one of the best games of his career against the Seattle Seahawks. He caught 12 passes for 134 yards, both flirting with career highs.

"I have so much respect for Wes Welker, you wouldn't believe it," said quarterback Matt Cassel. "He's one of the toughest people I know."

Welker was there every single Sunday (and Monday, too). He caught fewer than six catches only once in a game, and that was in the 60 mph gusting winds in Buffalo. But you know what? His two catches were the key plays in 10 of the 13 Patriots points.

I contacted a former critic of Welker's, ex-Cowboys personnel director under Tom Landry, Gil Brandt, who currently works for NFL.com.

When the Patriots acquired Welker for a second and seventh round pick, he was among the few that questioned the deal from the Patriots perspective.

"I was wrong and I admitted it last year," said Brandt. "I wasn't criticizing him, I just thought he was a complementary receiver. I was wrong."

And this year?

"Wes was even better," said Brandt. "And that's really telling me something because NFL teams figure out how to stop players. They haven't been able to figure him out. He is a special player. He's a star."

Brandt recently went through his NFL MVP selection process. Welker, who had 111 receptions (second most in the league) for 1,165 yards, was in his "top 13" MVP candidates.

He didn't make Brandt's next cut at the top seven (Cassel did). Eventually, he chose Peyton Manning over Chad Pennington.

"Wes was in the running," said Brandt. "He's an amazing player. He keeps improving and proving that people were wrong. He makes catches when the ball is behind him. He blocks real well downfield. And he is one of the best at getting yards after the catch."

Here's some good news. Welker is signed through 2011. Here's some better news. He will make only $3.5 million, including signing bonus, next season.

Accepting the fact that there was lots of luck in the Tom Brady draft choice, has Belichick made a better personnel decision than Wes Welker?


Is there a better person to represent this franchise and its consistency better than Wes Welker?


While Cassel deserves everything he receives over the next few months, including lots of money in his bank account, he owes most of it to Welker, the Patriots' MVP of 2008.