FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 9: Wes Welker #83 of the New England Patriots watches from the sidelines during a preseason game against the Orleans Saints in the first half at Gillette Stadium on August 9, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
The old saying "there's only one football" was certainly fitting in the aftermath of the Patriots' win over the Titans on Sunday. Wes Welker, Tom Brady's favorite target a year ago when he hauled in 122 passes, only had three receptions for 14 yards in Tennessee. When you consider the fact that he's playing on a one-year deal (albeit the franchise tender worth a cool $9 million and change), as well as the emergence of the young tight ends and the addition of Brandon Lloyd, and it's reasonable to assume that the team may be slowly phasing out Welker as the offense goes in another direction.
Of course, it's a ridiculous conclusion to jump to after one game but that's the nature of the non-stop NFL news cycle: there's always something to talk about.
So what are we to make of all this? ESPNBoston.com's Field Yates offers some background:
The 31-year-old was on the field for 64.2 percent of the team's offensive snaps (43 of 67) on Sunday. By comparison, Welker was on the field more than 89 percent of the time in 2011, when he was a pace-setter for the Patriots' offense and leader amongst NFL wideouts with 122 regular-season catches.
Yates and colleague Mike Reiss go on to paint a picture of the situation in New England, including:
* New (old) offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has been known to game plan based on the opponents' personnel and scheme, which means that some Pats' players could be featured one week and not the next.
* The Pats' featured two tight ends on every offensive snap and used a third tight end on 10 other occasions. This mitigated the need for a slot receiver on the field.
* Welker missed the final two preseason games for what coach Bill Belichick described as "personal reasons." Maybe the team erred on the side of caution in Week 1, too.
* Perhaps most fitting: since joining the Patriots, Welker has had three catches or fewer on eight occasions.
The takeaway: bad games happen. Welker has 331 receptions since 2009 and it's a tad presumptive to think that he's suddenly no longer in the Pats' immediate plans (even if the organization decides to let him walk in free agency next offseason).