FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 7: Wes Welker #83 of the New England Patriots runs into the end zone past Chris Harris #25 of the Denver Broncos in the first half for a touchdown at Gillette Stadium on October 7, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Remember all the early season talk about Wes Welker's dwindling role in the Patriots offense? He started against the Titans in Week 1 but logged just three catches for 14 yards. Then he came off the bench the next three weeks while Julian Edelman assumed Welker's role of crafty, elusive slot receiver. During that stretch, Welker looked like, well, the Welker we're accustomed to seeing. He had 22 catches for 366 yards and averaged 16.6 yards per reception.
Then Sunday happened. Against the Broncos, Welker got his second start of the year and proceeded to keep himself busy all afternoon. By the time it was over, the Patriots won going away, 31-21 (the score wasn't that close), and Welker had 13 receptions for 109 yards and his first touchdown of the season.
Asked after the game about this third-straight 100-yard receiving game, Welker, who's been known to crack a joke, offered this: "Yeah it's kind of nice to stick it in Bill's face once in a while," he said smiling while referring to coach Bill Belichick, the man responsible for benching him. "So this is definitely a good one."
(Welker also suggested during Super Bowl week that Belichick's suddenly sunny disposition could be due to the "lady in his life.")
While Welker's resurgence makes for a nice story, it's not much of a surprise. In six seasons with the Pats, Welker has 592 catches. He's expected to do this. New England's running game, on the other hand, is a complete surprise. For the second straight week, the Pats rushed for more than 200 yards and Stevan Ridley accounted for 151 of those yards against the Broncos. He now has 490 yards on 102 carries (4.8 YPC) including four touchdowns. Despite the performance, after the game Ridley was upset with his fourth-quarter fumble that gave the Broncos a chance to get back in the game.
"It was late in the game, you've got to close it out, you've got to run the football," he said. "I told myself before the play, I had to hold on to the football, before I went out on that series. Like I said, they're getting paid to play too. You can't make any excuses, I messed up. I'm sure coach is going to have something to say about it, but like I said, it's always another day tomorrow. So I'm going to get back to work and work on ball security high-and-tight. That's all I can do."
Ridley called the fumble "a negative," but added "I'm not hanging my head on it. I've been a hard worker, I'm coming back to work on it on Monday."
And when he gets to work, the Pats will be alone in first place in the division, something that seemed like a ridiculous notion just two weeks ago when the team was 1-2.