- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Privately, Denver Broncos officials and players were more than a little taken aback by New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick's critcism of Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker Monday. They were also suprised Belichick questioned Welker's motives for an on-field collision with Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib in Sunday's AFC Championship Game.
Belichick brought up the second quarter injury to open his season wrap-up news conference Monday morning, calling it "a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib. No attempt to get open. I'll let the league handle the discipline on that play, whatever they decide. It's one of the worst plays I've seen."
No penalty was called and Talib left the game with what the Patriots announced as rib and knee injuries.
Later Monday the Broncos publicly defended Welker. While head coach John Fox, who had been in meetings about "the logistics" of the team's trip to the Super Bowl site, said he had no question about Welker's intentions.
"I haven't seen the tape, I haven't seen his comments," Fox said. " ... I know that Wes Welker is a great player, high integrity. We were not doing anything with intent."
On Belichick's charge that Welker did not try to get open on the play, Fox said; "I'll say I think on most pass routes that we run, there is intent to get open."
"Like I said, I've got a lot of respect for Bill," Fox said. "I've not seen the comments so it's really hard for me to stand up here and comment on comments I haven't seen, so I'll leave it at that ... . We're not the only team by any stretch. In fact our opponent Sunday did the same thing."
Two of Welker's teammates were quick to defend their teammate as well.
"I've known Wes for a while now and he's definitely not that kind of guy," said tight end Julius Thomas. "Things happen in football and sometimes people get hurt, but I don't believe Wes would intentionally try to hurt anybody out there."
"You can't control everything, slant routes have happened since I've been playing football -- Pee Wee league, you know?" said Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan. "A lot of people are saying little incidents -- I haven't seen it, I don't know ... it's all be routes all around going there. You've got to keep your head up, keep your head on a swivel."
The Broncos also pointed to the fact Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman leveled Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on a similar play earlier in the game. Privately those with the team also simply questioned the logic of a player like Welker, who missed three games this season after suffered two concussions in a four-game span, intentionally plowing into a defender for any reason.
Following the game Welker said he had no intention of injuring Talib.
"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," Welker said. "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.”
Welker played six seasons for Belichick with the Patriots before signing with the Broncos in free agency last March. The player Belichick signed, to a five-year, $28.5 million deal, to replace Welker, Danny Amendola, did not have a catch in Sunday's game. Amendola caught just five passes in the Patriots' final two regular-season games and two playoff games combined.
2dEric D. Williams