Wes Welker hurt the New England Patriots' secondary Sunday in the way one would expect — and in another way one might not.
Welker caught four passes in the Broncos' 26-16 AFC championship game victory against his former team, but it was an accidental collision with a Pro Bowl Patriots cornerback that might have had the most impact on the outcome.
The collision happened on a second-and-9 play with 13:36 left in the second quarter, a play when wideout Demaryius Thomas dropped a short pass from quarterback Peyton Manning. While Thomas was crossing the field in one direction, Welker was crossing in the other, and on the way he ran into Aqib Talib, by far New England's best defensive back.
Talib was forced from the game with what first was described as a rib injury but in the second half was announced as a knee ailment. The Broncos had only three points to that point, and Manning was, for him, a pedestrian 8-for-12 passing. He finished 32-of-43 for 400 yards as the Patriots clearly missed Talib's presence.
The hit was purely accidental, Welker said.
“It was 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 collided,” said Welker, who played in the Super Bowl in 2007 and 2011 with the Patriots. “It wasn't a deal where I was trying to hit him or anything like that. I hope he's OK.”
Said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, “As it turned out, that was a key play.”
As whether he thought it should have been a penalty on Welker, Belichick said, “I'll have to look at it on the film.”
If Belichick's actions on the sideline were any indication, he thought it was a penalty.
There was no gloating by Welker about the victory against the team that let him loose as a free agent last winter.
“They're a great team, a great organization and I've got nothing but love for those guys over there,” he said.
Welker gave what witnesses said was an inspiring pep talk to the team Saturday night. Broncos coach John Fox asked him to say something.
“I spent all day Saturday putting something together, watching a little film and different things like that of how I think the game needed to be played,” Welker said. “The guys just went out and executed and that's what it comes down to.”
After Welker's talk, Thomas said, “I wanted to go play right then and there.”
Fox seemed surprised when asked about Welker's speech.
“I'm still wondering how that got out, but, yeah, I have a player speak every Saturday night,” Fox said. “I figured out in my time doing this they get sick of listening to me talk. It's personal, so I won't get into the exacts, but he answered the bell pretty well.”
Welker knows he doesn't need to be the wise sage of the locker room, as Manning has Super Bowl experience as well. But he expects he'll talk with teammates about what to expect.
“You've got to seize the opportunity and take advantage of it. Anytime you get a chance to go back to a Super Bowl, it's a huge thing for the team, for the guys,” Welker said. “We persevered to get to this point, and we've earned it. Now we've just got to go finish it.”