Patriots coach Bill Belichick called out Wes Welker for an alleged dirty hit during the AFC title game on Sunday.
What seemed to be a harmless incompletion for the Broncos early in the second quarter, the play saw Patriots pro bowl cornerback Aqib Talib on the ground writhing in pain.
On the play, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning threw over the middle to Demaryius Thomas and the receiver dropped the pass. The play was a crossing pattern with Thomas and Welker where Welker collided at full speed with Talib, who was covering Thomas. Talib never saw Welker, who knocked Talib out of the game with reported knee and rib injuries.
The play proved to be the turning point of the game. With no Talib, the Patriots could not cover Thomas. In the first half, Thomas had three catches for 82 yards. He finished the game with seven receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown.
Belichick called the play a “deliberate” hit when he addressed the media on Monday.
“I went back and watched it, which I didn’t have a chance to do yesterday,” Belichick said without any prompting by the media. “I think it was a deliberate play by the receiver (Welker) to take out Aqib; no attempt to get open. I’ll let the league handle the discipline on that play; it’s not for me to decide, but it’s one of the worst plays I’ve seen.”
Belichick felt strongly about the play. After the game Sunday, he said “As it turned out, that was a key play in the game … I'll say he's a key player for us. I feel badly for Aqib the way that play turned out.”
Without mentioning Welker by name, in true Forest Gump/Belichick-ian fashion, the longtime Patriots coach ended the discussion with “that’s all I’m going to say about that.”
Thomas called the hit simply a physical football play. "It was kind of like a pick play,” he said after the game. “It was a big collision and it knocked him out of the game. The main thing was to come out and play physical as a whole group and that's what we did.”
Welker said he never tried to hurt Talib on the play. "Yeah it was one of those plays where it's kind of a rub play and I was trying to get him 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. 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."
Call it a “rub play” or whether it was deliberate or not, according to the NFL rulebook [Rule 8, Section 5, Article 2], the play was illegal.
On a forward pass, backward pass, or fumble, the rules state “Prohibited Acts by both teams while the ball is in the air; acts that are pass interference include, but are not limited to: cutting off the path of an opponent by making contact with him, without playing the ball.”
Welker clearly was not playing the ball or any attempt to get open on a pass pattern, when he took out Talib in the collision. There was no penalty called on the play.
*The Wes Welker Spector*
For the third straight season, Welker was involved in a key play to help knock the Patriots out of the playoffs.
First, as a member of the Patriots, Welker dropped a key fourth quarter pass in the Super Bowl in 2012. Last year, he dropped another key pass in the AFC Championship game against Baltimore. Now, as a member of the Broncos, he made a key hit on Patriots defensive back Aqib Talib to knock the pro bowl cornerback out of the game.
Super Bowl Drop
The Patriots had the ball on the Giants 44-yard-line clinging to a 17-15 lead late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVI. The clock was ticking down to the three minute mark and New York had no time outs left.
The Giants secondary was scrambling over their coverage assignments and as Tom Brady dropped back to pass, he saw an uncovered Wes Welker slip through the Giants secondary. Brady lofted a pass in Welker’s direction and all he had to do was catch the ball. A reception meant the Patriots could milk the clock to another championship. In a season where he had 122 catches to lead the league in reception and with the outcome of Super Bowl XLVI on the line, Welker could not come up with the big play. It was a Bill Buckner in shoulder pads moment.
“It’s right there and it hits me right in the hands,” Welker said after the game. “It’s one I will have to live with.”
AFC Championship Drop
The Patriots were driving and apparently in control of the AFC Championship game against Baltimore last season. New England had the ball on the Ravens 34-yard-line on a third-and-eight and a 13-7 lead.
Brady spotted Welker making his break along the left sideline and gunned it to the Patriots all-time leading receiver, but Welker let the ball slip right through his fingers, hitting his face mask for an incomplete pass. If Welker had made the catch, it would have been first down near the 25-yard-line and possibly a scoring drive for New England. The play did not go down as a turnover on the stat sheet, but it was as good as one.
The momentum shifted to the Ravens and they never looked back as the entire game changed from that moment. Baltimore went on to score 21 unanswered points for the victory and Super Bowl berth.
Welker left the Patriots as a free agent last offseason after he spent the previous six seasons in New England where he became the franchise leader in receptions with 672 and second in receiving yards with 7,459. Welker will play in his third Super Bowl in two weeks, the first as a member of the Broncos.
Kevin Saleeba is the senior editor and columnist for Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinSaleeba or like him on Facebook.