New England Patriots: Wes Welker

Gallon gets his fill of Edelman, Welker

May, 15, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For those curious how New England Patriots coaches begin the process of getting rookies up to speed in the team's system, consider the situation with wide receiver Jeremy Gallon, the seventh-round draft choice out of Michigan.

Receivers coach Chad O'Shea has turned on the tape of Julian Edelman and Wes Welker, having Gallon study their every move.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Gallon
Mike Reiss/ESPNBoston.comPatriots seventh-round pick Jeremy Gallon had 1,373 yards receiving at Michigan last season.
"Those are the two I've started on so far," Gallon said Thursday at Gillette Stadium.

Gallon is listed on the Patriots' official roster at 5-foot-8 and 184 pounds and he projects to the slot, where Edelman and Welker have done some of their best work. Since Edelman has played the position in the team's system most recently, he's been the focal point of film study.

"Just seeing how quick he is off the ball, how he uses his hands, how good he is at the top of his routes -- just trying to imitate that and do what he does," said Gallon, who holds the Michigan single-season record for receiving yardage with 1,373 yards.

That's one of the messages that Patriots coaches have stressed to all rookies since their arrival in town Sunday -- "You don't know anything, so watch the veterans and learn."

"I'm just here to follow and fit in," relayed Gallon, who added that the biggest obstacle he's had to overcome in football is his height. "If that means watching Edelman's film every day, that's what I'm doing. If he can give me any pointers, or at practice I'm watching him running routes 1-on-1 or even on air, as much knowledge as I can soak up from him or any receiver here is better for me. That's the way, to me, to becoming a great player."

Film study is a big part of it for a player who has long admired smaller receivers like Welker and Steve Smith of the Baltimore Ravens.

"I think that's the way to a coach's heart -- stay in the film room and learn everything you can as fast as you to get on the field as quick as you want to be," he said.

Gallon, who attended Apopka High School in Florida (also the alma mater of former Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather), said that he is aware of some of the Patriots' seventh-round success stories in the Bill Belichick era, a group that includes Edelman, quarterback Matt Cassel (2005), outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain (2003), receiver David Givens (2002) and running back Patrick Pass (2000). He hopes to someday add his name to the list, and the first step to doing so is turning on the film.

It's only been five days, but make no mistake, Gallon is already getting his fill of Edelman and Welker.

Double Coverage: Patriots vs. Broncos

March, 18, 2014
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Darrelle Revis, Aqib Talib Getty ImagesBoth the Patriots and Broncos bolstered their defense by signing Darrelle Revis and Aqib Talib.
Since the start of the 2005 season, the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots have played 10 times, with three of those postseason games, including a 26-16 Denver win in the AFC Championship Game in January.

The two are so familiar with each other that even Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has joked, "The league says the schedule is random, like where you play, but that doesn't feel random. We're always facing them and it always feels like it's at their place."

In 2014, the Broncos play the Patriots again -- and it will be in Foxborough, Mass., for the second consecutive year (as part of the NFL's rotating schedule formula).

As two franchises with five Super Bowl wins between them race to make the most of what's left in the careers of their respective future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, they almost appear to be answering the other's signings.

So much so that Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway was even asked this past weekend if he felt like he was in an "arms race" with the Patriots during the free-agency period.

"You always know you have to go through New England," Elway said. "If you look at their track record the last 10 years, they're a team you're going to have to be able to deal with, and for us to get done what we want to get done, you've got to be able to beat them. It's kind of a fun type of arms race, and we'll see what happens next year."

ESPN.com Patriots reporter Mike Reiss and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold take a closer look at both teams' moves over the past week.

Legwold: Mike, the Broncos certainly see the Patriots as the chief hurdle in any attempt to get to another Super Bowl title, and whether they would admit it or not, the thought of having to beat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in a game that matters influences the decisions the Broncos make. How do the Patriots see this?

Reiss: Jeff, that will be atop the list of questions to ask Belichick the next time he meets with the press. As you might have noticed, unlike the Broncos, the Patriots haven't had any news conferences to trumpet their offseason moves, so we're left to answer this question for them based on their actions. And the answer, from this view, is the Broncos are a significant factor in the Patriots' decision-making process, specifically in what they're trying to put together defensively with physical press corners in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. It's hard to get to Manning with the pass rush (what the Seahawks accomplished in the Super Bowl is the exception), so another way to disrupt that high-powered attack is getting physical in the secondary. I don't think building a team to beat the Broncos is their sole focus and would imagine Belichick will dismiss most of this line of thinking, but to me the actions speak loudly that it's at least part of the thought process.

One of the big questions I've heard from Patriots followers: "How are the Broncos signing all these players -- Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware, Emmanuel Sanders -- to such big-money contracts?" Along those lines, what is the Broncos' cap situation and could this be the type of thing that comes back to haunt them in future years?

Legwold: The short answer is the Broncos' cap situation was far better than many reported as free agency opened. They weren't on the list of teams that had no room to work with, and circumstances helped them as well. They had about $28.7 million worth of room when free agency was set to open -- that total was among the league's top 10 -- and gained another $10 million when they released Champ Bailey and another $4.1 million when guard Chris Kuper retired last week. They also structured most of the deals, including Talib's, with several kinds of bonuses in different years of the contract. Talib's deal is six years, $57 million on paper, but in reality, it's a three-year, $27 million contract that the Broncos could escape with limited cap implications after the 2014 season. They do not have any of the deals heavily front-loaded, essentially eliminating salary-cap implications down the road if they have to release the players after one or two years. They are selling the chance to play for a Super Bowl contender, and the players they signed were willing to work with them on deals that pay well if the player does well but make sense to the Broncos down the road, too. They simply bypassed the players who weren't willing to play ball that way. Also, they have made age a priority, with Talib, T.J. Ward and Sanders all just 27 or 28 years old. They have tried to limit their exposure with long-term contracts for 30-somethings.

With Wes Welker's signing last season and Talib's last week, there is an element of not only signing a free agent the Broncos want but also weakening a rival.

Mike, how do you think the Patriots saw those signings? Just business, or their players being targeted?

Also, Talib talked about the Patriots' injury-reporting procedures in his introductory news conference. How do you think those remarks were received in New England?

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Gail BurtonTom Brady has said he wants to play until he's 40 years old.
Reiss: More in the "just business” category. There is a pretty strong resolve among the team's decision-makers in how they want to build their team and what they view as the most responsible financial decisions. So, right or wrong, they often set a price and don't budge too far off it, knowing that could mean a player winds up on a top competitor. That's basically what happened with Welker and Talib. As for Talib's remarks, I don't think it was anything inflammatory in the eyes of the Patriots. Talib was very well-liked here, and I don't think what he said changes anything along those lines.

We remember from all the talk about the Eagles' "Dream Team” a few years ago that assembling talent is only part of the equation. It's how it comes together.

Jeff, can you shed some insight on the Broncos' locker room, the leadership, and if there should be any concern on how all the impressive individual parts come together as a team?

Legwold: The Broncos have a little different structure than most teams in that they are the only one with a Hall of Fame quarterback who is a sports icon in the same city where he also happens to run the team. Elway is the ultimate Alpha Dog in terms of how things go here, even with Manning in the locker room. But the Broncos like the makeup of their locker room, but it will be a year of transition in that regard given three former captains -- Bailey, Kuper and Wesley Woodyard -- have all departed. At the roster level, Manning's presence is all over the offense, and on defense they see youngsters such as Danny Trevathan and Chris Harris Jr. as future captains. They also believe they've been careful in the players they've signed -- Elway makes it clear who is, or isn't, what they are looking for. That said of the new arrivals, there certainly is the hope that Ware can be a mentor to Von Miller, both on and off the field, after Miller's rocky ride in 2013 that included a six-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Mike, there is a sense in Denver that Manning's career is winding down and that 2014 could be it. But what is the feeling about Brady and how much longer he intends to play?

Reiss: Brady is signed through 2017, and there is every expectation he will play to the end of that contract, and play at a high level. Brady has previously said he'd like to play into his 40s, and I don't think anyone would be wise to bet against that after what we've seen from him since he was selected 199th overall in the 2000 draft. He keeps himself in excellent physical condition and basically lives football year-round. So assuming good health, I'd put '17 as the earliest marker to when we might close the book on his career. He'd be 40 at that point.

Jeff, with the moves the Broncos have made, where do you see them as better than last year, and where is there work still to be done?

Legwold: We asked Elway that question Sunday when Sanders arrived as the latest signing. Elway's response was: "I do think we're better, especially when you consider we had five starters on defense on injured reserve last year. When I could move those names off IR, back onto our roster board, I felt a lot better about our team even before free agency opened. And now we added some guys who we think are the right kind of guys and who fill some big needs for us."

The Broncos' goal has been to use free agency to fill what Elway has called "glaring needs" so they can continue to draft the best available guys, no matter the position. They still need some depth on the offensive line, a middle linebacker who would play only in the base, and they will look at wide receiver and cornerback in the draft as well.

Carter, McCourty, Gregory react to hit

January, 20, 2014
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick was not alone in his thinking that there should have been some sort of action taken against Wes Welker for his hit on Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib in the AFC Championship Game.

"When I saw it, just as a player in general, Wes, was he doing his job? I'm sure he was to a certain degree," Patriots defensive end Andre Carter said in the locker room Monday. "I think the hit could've [been] cleaner. I've been around a lot of football to see that.

"At the end of the day, it was a nasty play. We'll see what the league does."

The play occurred in the second quarter Sunday. With the Broncos in the early portions of a drive that would put them up 10-0, Welker streaked through the middle of the field and smacked into a crossing Talib, who left with a knee injury and did not return.

Carter also labeled the play by Welker as "unacceptable," although he did acknowledge that plays of this variety are part of the game and something for which defenders need to prepare.

Others on the New England side agreed, almost hailing the play as a smart one until the league figures out a way to police the situation or remove some of the grey area between what is and what isn't a penalty.

Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty had yet to view tape of the play, but could see both sides of the argument.

"[Belichick's] seen a lot of football. So I might go with what he says, but I haven't watched it or had a chance to look at it," McCourty said before being asked whether Welker had intent to injure. "I don't know. That's tough to say someone would do that, but I think all of us out there would do anything to try to win the game.

"Each team's different but they're very good at [the rub route]. They run that a lot, they do a good job of it. so it happens a lot. They don't get called if they're done a certain way, or they might get called one time and you run it seven, eight times and it gets called once. So it's a pretty good play to run."

Belichick acknowledged after the game that the Talib injury had a major impact on the outcome, and Talib's teammates said the same Monday.

"Definitely, big time. Aqib's a heck of a football player for us," safety Steve Gregory said. "He matches up against what we consider the top receiver week in and week out. He's a leader, he's a competitive guy, a guy that's going to go out and give you everything he's got, so you never want to lose a guy like that. But at the same time, other guys have to step up like we've done all year.

"By no means is it easy to replace a guy like Aqib so, yeah, it was tough to see him go down."

Gregory, Welker's teammate in 2012, stopped short of saying the Denver receiver had bad intentions.

"I don't think anybody in this league does things deliberately to hurt another player," Gregory said. "I don't think anybody really plays that way, especially at this level of football with two great football teams with the Broncos and ourselves. I don't know."

Bruschi: Welker tried to pick Talib, not hurt

January, 20, 2014
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Earlier today Bill Belichick called the Wes Welker hit that sidelined cornerback Aqib Talib in Sunday's AFC Championship Game "one of the worst plays I've seen." ESPN analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi was asked about it in today's chat and here is his take:

What is your take on Welker's hit on Talib? Bill Belichick thinks it was purposeful. I agree. Welker did not collide with Talib. He launched himself into Talib and left his feet. Welker had no intention of running a route. Also, Peyton Manning's pass was in the air when the contact was made. The NFL should fine Welker a game check. -- David (Atlanta)

Bruschi: I know how it looked, David, but I disagree with the assessment. This type of collision happens every week in the NFL. If you look closely, this type of pick-route mentality happens weekly within the New England Patriot offense. It's a strategic way to beat man to man coverage. When these techniques are utilized closer to the line of scrimmage, they happen at a lower rate of speed. But when they happen down the field, 10-15 yards from the line of scrimmage, the rate of speed increases. Welker had a clear goal on that play -- to make Aqib Talib go over the top so he could free up Demaryius Thomas. Aqib Talib made a decision to attempt to fight to stay under that pick. So what you have there are 2 players, going at a high rate of speed because they were 10-plus yards from the line of scrimmage, simultaneously deciding to take the same route. That's where the collision occurred. Welker's intent was to pick Aqib Talib, but it wasn't to injure.

Follow-up thoughts on Belichick's claim

January, 20, 2014
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DENVER -- There is no revisionist history from this viewpoint when it comes to receiver Wes Welker’s knockout hit on cornerback Aqib Talib in the second quarter of Sunday's AFC Championship Game.

This is what was written at halftime: “The missed penalty call on Welker was most egregious from this viewpoint.”

SportsNation

Bill Belichick says that Wes Welker's hit on Aqib Talib in the AFC Championship game was a "deliberate play by the receiver to take out Talib." Do you agree?

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    36%
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Discuss (Total votes: 133,158)

Former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, now an analyst on Fox, disagreed. Former official Jim Daopoulos, who now provides analysis for NBC, looked at it differently.

The two former officials were making their determination based on the timing of when the ball was delivered. If it's already delivered, it's not a penalty. If the ball hasn't been delivered, it is a penalty.

We can debate that as it's a judgment call, but what Bill Belichick said Monday morning is something altogether different.

Belichick's judgment call is that Welker, whose relationship with his former coach was hot and cold at times, deliberately intended to take out Talib.

I have a tough time going there.

It starts with my feeling that intent to injure isn't in Welker’s DNA, especially after what he went through with his torn ACL four years ago.

I watched the play over and over again Monday morning, and this is the conclusion I came to: Welker's job on the play, as he ran a crossing route from right to left, was clearly to rub out Talib as he was trailing Demaryius Thomas on a crossing route underneath from left to right. These plays are commonplace, as Greg Bedard of TheMMQB.com wrote last week, and the Patriots themselves run them often.

In fact, if you listen closely enough to the audio of CBS' broadcast feed, the Patriots seemed to know it was coming because you almost hear a defensive player saying "Watch the pick!" before the snap.

Welker never looked for the ball before making contact with Talib. He also veered slightly upfield to pick off Talib.

I think it should have been penalized.

But do I really think Welker was intending to injure Talib? I don't.

And that, like the debate over whether a flag should have been thrown, is a judgment call.

Double Coverage: Patriots at Broncos

January, 17, 2014
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And then there were two -- two teams that know most of what there is to know about each other, two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks who add to their legacies with every pass, all with a Super Bowl trip on the line.

The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, who have faced each other in each of the past three seasons and in the divisional round of the 2011 season, took it to overtime Nov. 24. The Broncos let a 24-0 halftime lead get away, and the Patriots won 34-31 after a punt bounced off Broncos cornerback Tony Carter's leg in overtime on a frigid night in Foxborough, Mass.

ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss Sunday's AFC Championship Game in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Legwold: Peyton Manning and Bill Belichick yet again. Do you think, in all your time around Belichick, that he tries to bring something new to the table every time he faces Manning? Or does he assume Manning has done the homework and put his efforts into getting people in the right position?

Reiss: I'd say there's always a new wrinkle or two, Jeff. Belichick has said in the past that Manning is too smart to just do the same thing over and over again -- both within a game and from matchup to matchup. Part of that discussion is also the state of the Patriots' personnel entering the matchup. A player like rookie linebacker Jamie Collins, for example, might give Belichick the flexibility to introduce something unique based on his breakthrough since the Nov. 24 meeting between the teams.

The weather forecast looks promising for Manning. No icy cold forecast. How do you think he approaches this game compared to the Nov. 24 contest? Do you think he will be less reluctant to hand the ball off?

Legwold: It will be a postcard day Sunday with the temperature expected to be 58 degrees with 0 percent chance of rain and light winds. So any decisions the two teams make on offense will have to do with what's in front of them on defense only. Manning will be inclined to hand the ball off if he sees the Patriots in some of those lighter personnel groupings deployed to handle Denver's three-wide-receiver look. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase has a run option built into most things Manning can change into at the line of scrimmage. The Broncos certainly like how Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball are trending in the run game. They have split carries down the stretch, and both run with tackle-shedding power.

Gase, with coaching DNA that includes his time with Mike Martz, is an aggressive sort. With the next-generation numbers the Broncos' offense has put up this season, it's easy to forget they still averaged 28.8 carries per game and topped 30 carries per matchup nine times this season. If they get a look from the New England defense that calls for a run, the Broncos will be inclined to pound away.

Where is Tom Brady's game and the offense right now after some rough moments early in the season? Has Brady benefited from a run-heavy approach down the stretch and into the postseason?

Reiss: The biggest benefit for Brady with the run-heavy approach has been how it opens play-action opportunities. Danny Amendola's 53-yard catch in the divisional round is one of the best examples. Also, part of the reason the Patriots have gone so run-heavy is that it's the area where they have their most assets. They are limited when it comes to pass-catchers who create consistent separation at tight end and receiver. As for Brady's game, there have been no signs of decline in arm strength, accuracy or decision-making. The main reasons for the struggles early in the year, from my view, were more about the changes around him. That's not to say Brady didn't make his mistakes, but it's sort of interesting to look back on some of the media-based discussion around Weeks 6 to 8 about how maybe Father Time had caught up to him.

Now that we're a full season in, how would you sum up the Wes Welker signing? Just as the Broncos hoped for? Better? Worse?

Legwold: Welker finished the regular season with 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns. His presence in the slot, along with Julius Thomas at tight end, is part of the reason the offense had a historic season. With the Broncos lining up in a three-wide-receiver set the majority of the season -- and every snap of the divisional round win over the San Diego Chargers -- they force defenses into some difficult choices. Thomas is often in the slot on one side of the formation, and Welker is in the slot on the other side. When Thomas missed two games earlier this season with a knee injury, both the Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs (Dec. 1) elected to double-team Welker. He missed three games after suffering his second concussion in a four-week span Dec. 8 against the Tennessee Titans but played last week against the Chargers without issue.

Welker did have some spells this season when he had a cluster of dropped passes -- three against the Patriots on a frigid night to go with drops against Washington and San Diego in the regular season. Overall, though, he was exactly what the Broncos hoped he would be in their offense. He meshed with Manning quickly and was a big part of the plan right from his nine-catch performance against the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener.

The Patriots did not face Thomas in the Nov. 24 meeting. Do you think they will try to match up Collins on Thomas this time around?

Reiss: That seems like the natural matchup, especially after seeing Collins splitting out wide on Colts tight end Coby Fleener on Saturday night and playing very well. Collins is unique in that, at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, he is fast enough to be competitive down the field in coverage (e.g., fourth-quarter interception versus the Colts) but powerful enough to play in the box and deliver a blow in the running game and as a pass-rusher. The Patriots' top draft pick in 2013, selected 52nd overall out of Southern Mississippi, he is an intriguing player whom Patriots fans really got their first extended look at Saturday as he played every snap against the Colts. He had been groomed behind the scenes up to that point, playing just 25 percent of the defensive snaps on the season in more of a reserve role.

Thomas may not have played in the first game between the teams, but Von Miller did. How does Miller's season-ending knee injury affect the Broncos' defense?

Legwold: Of all the players who were signed in the weeks after the initial leaguewide binge in free agency, the Broncos' signing of Shaun Phillips was easily one of the best. Denver signed Phillips to a one-year, $1 million deal during the draft weekend in April, well over a month after free agency had opened, a deal that didn't have a signing bonus but did have some incentives based on sack totals.

Phillips was initially how the Broncos planned to deal with the loss of Elvis Dumervil in free agency. When Miller was suspended for the first six games of the season, Phillips had 5.5 sacks in those games to lead the way. He finished the regular season with 10 sacks to lead the team. In Sunday's win, with Miller on injured reserve, Phillips had two sacks against the Chargers. He is the single-most important player in the Broncos' pass rush in Miller's absence. Denver may have to take more risks without Miller on the field, and that's always a tough choice against someone like Brady, who can easily find the holes in coverage. But if Phillips can consistently create pressure -- with both sacks on three-man rushes against San Diego -- it allows the Broncos to move things around a little more and cover more of the bases.

Did Belichick make a conscious effort to get big backs like LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley in the lineup when he knew he would get smaller defensive personnel against the team's passing attack?

Reiss: That's fair to say, as the Patriots pride themselves on creating those matchups during the game, with coordinator Josh McDaniels finding his groove in recent weeks. They refer to themselves as a "game plan" offense because they tailor their plan weekly based on what they perceive to be the weakness of the opposition. They'll shuttle in different personnel groupings early -- multiple receivers, two backs, two tight ends, etc. -- to get information on how the opponent is matching up and then focus on the one they like best. This week, what's fascinating to me is that I think they probably see vulnerability in the Broncos' secondary, but I wonder how they feel about their own personnel in being able to exploit it. So that could keep them grounded.

The Patriots have been running the ball very well. How is the Broncos' run defense?

Legwold: In a year when the Broncos have been forced, by injuries and Miller's suspension, to mix and match on defense, their run defense has likely been more consistent in comparison to some of the other issues they've had. When defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson went to injured reserve Nov. 27 with a hip injury, they did wobble a bit, surrendering 159 yards rushing to the Chiefs and 177 yards rushing to the Chargers in two of the three games that immediately followed.

They have regained their balance a bit since, moving Paris Lenon into the middle linebacker spot in the base defense, and rookie defensive tackle Sylvester Williams has played better each week. Overall, the biggest issue for the Broncos will be how they defend the run if the Patriots get them in nickel or dime personnel on defense and then run the ball at the smaller looks. The Broncos' safeties will have to tackle and tackle well to make it work.

Belichick has always tried to make "other" people beat him and take away an offense's front-line players. How do you think he would rank the Broncos' threats in the passing game, and where do you think the one-on-one matchups will be?

Reiss: One insightful point that ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi made in his weekly chat was the idea of defending the Broncos from the inside-out. Manning is still an accurate marksman, one of the greatest of all time, but I'm guessing that even he would agree that some of the downfield and outside-the-numbers throws he used to make don't come as easily to him. So it makes sense that the Patriots would focus more resources on the inside part of the field, where it would seem we would most likely see Welker and Thomas. With this in mind, I could envision the Patriots matching up cornerback Aqib Talib with Demaryius Thomas on the outside and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard with Eric Decker and taking their chances that those one-on-one matchups will be competitive. Trusting those cornerbacks in those one-on-one matchups would allow the defense to focus extra attention/personnel to the inside part of the field.

Any X factors or special-teams contributors we should keep on the radar?

Legwold: The Broncos have usually been lockdown tight on special teams -- opening the season with two touchdown returns and two blocked punts, one of those returned for a score, in the first four weeks of the season. Those normally reliable units, however, have wobbled plenty down the stretch. The Chiefs' Knile Davis had a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the Titans' Leon Washington had a 95-yard kickoff return, and the Texans' Keshawn Martin had a 51-yard punt return. Toss in the first blocked punt of Britton Colquitt's career in Oakland to go with Trindon Holliday's occasional adventures catching the ball, and it's been an unpredictable stretch. But Holliday is always a threat to uncork a return because of his breathtaking speed. The Broncos used wide receiver Decker as the primary punt returner against the Chargers last week, and he had a 47-yarder. So the Broncos have the potential to pop one at any time, especially in Denver, where Holliday returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in last January's playoff loss to the Ravens.

 

Catching up with former Patriots, Week 13

December, 4, 2013
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Every Wednesday during the season, we'll lead off the day with a quick recap of notable former New England Patriots players and their standing with new teams.

Jake Ballard (Cardinals)
Tight end plays four offensive snaps and six on special teams in a 24-21 road loss to the Eagles. Doesn't register on the stat sheet.
Season snapshot: Has been with the Cardinals for four games since signing Nov. 4, playing 53 of 281 snaps and totaling two catches for 44 yards.

Chung
Patrick Chung (Eagles)
Safety starts and plays all 71 snaps in a 24-21 home win over the Cardinals. Has one pass defended.
Season snapshot: Has started six of 12 games and is credited with 36 tackles.

Jermaine Cunningham (Jets)
Outside linebacker plays six defensive snaps and 11 on special teams in a 23-3 home loss to the Dolphins. Doesn't register on the stat sheet.
Season snapshot: Spent the month of October with the 49ers but never appeared in a game. Signed with the Jets on Nov. 20. He dressed Nov. 24 but didn't play, so the Dolphins game was his debut.

Brandon Deaderick (Jaguars)
Defensive tackle plays 23 of 75 snaps in 32-28 road win over the Browns. Totals one tackle.
Season snapshot: Has played 288 total snaps, totaling eight tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery and one pass defended.

A.J. Francis (Dolphins)
Defensive tackle is inactive in a 23-3 road win over the Jets.
Season snapshot: Signed off the Patriots' practice squad Nov. 26,

Kyle Love (Chiefs)
Defensive tackle is inactive in a 35-28 home loss to the Broncos.
Season snapshot: After spending training camp with the Jaguars and being released before the season opener, he signed with the Chiefs on Nov. 19. Appeared in one game, playing two snaps, before being waived Dec. 3.

Greg Salas (Jets)
Receiver is targeted four times and makes one catch in a 23-3 home loss to the Dolphins. Plays 30 of 55 snaps.
Season snapshot: In four games with the Jets since making his debut Nov. 3, he has seven catches for 137 yards. Has played 118 of 231 offensive snaps in those games.

Zach Sudfeld (Jets)
Plays seven snaps on offense and 15 on special teams but doesn't register on the stat sheet.
Season snapshot: Tight end has played 103 offensive snaps in seven games. Has four catches for 56 yards.

Jeff Tarpinian (Texans)
Linebacker plays in a reserve role in a 34-31 home loss to the Patriots, totaling two tackles and a half-sack. Plays 27 of 70 snaps.
Season snapshot: After signing with the Texans on Oct. 28, has played in four games, totaling 12 tackles on defense. Has played 92 of 271 defensive snaps.

Washington
Leon Washington (Titans)
Wearing No. 26, he is the primary kickoff returner and punt returner in a 22-14 road loss to the Colts, totaling three kickoff returns for 78 yards (26.0 avg.) and two punt returns for 43 yards (21.5 avg.), with two fair catches. Doesn't play on offense.
Season snapshot: Released by the Patriots on Nov. 23; signed with the Titans on Nov. 26.

Wes Welker (Broncos)
Receiver finishes with three catches for 38 yards as his presence draws attention and opens things up for fellow receiver Eric Decker to have a big day in a 35-28 road win over the Chiefs. Plays 63 of 70 snaps.
Season snapshot: Has played 722 of 906 offensive snaps (79.6 percent), and has 68 catches for 717 yards and nine touchdowns.

Danny Woodhead (Chargers)
Running back has seven carries for 22 yards and adds two catches for 13 yards in a 17-10 home loss to the Bengals. Plays 27 of 65 snaps.
Season snapshot: Has 61 receptions for 482 yards and five TDs, and has carried the ball 77 times for 288 yards and two TDs. Has played 384 offensive snaps.

Others: Colts starting guard Donald Thomas landed on season-ending injured reserve in Week 2. ... Defensive end Trevor Scott played four games (54 snaps) with the Buccaneers before he was released Oct. 24. ... Punter Zoltan Mesko was released by the Steelers on Oct. 29 after appearing in seven games and ranking 31st in punting average (42.5) and 29th in net punting average (36.7). ... Quarterback Brian Hoyer started two games for the Browns, leading them to two wins, before tearing his ACL in his third start and landing on season-ending injured reserve.

Memories resurface about Texans' field

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
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The New England Patriots make their first trip to Houston to face the Texans since the 2009 regular-season finale, a game that was unforgettable because it was when then-Patriots receiver Wes Welker tore his ACL in a non-contact injury.

The natural-grass playing surface at Reliant Stadium was pieced together in certain areas that day, and was a concern to some members of the organization before the game.

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
AP Photo/Dave EinselThe last time the Patriots played at Houston, Wes Welker tore his ACL in a non-contact injury.
This topic was brought up to Bill Belichick during his Tuesday conference call, as those who watched the Texans' Nov. 3 home game against the Colts couldn't have helped but notice the field looked much the same as it did in 2009.

"We looked at the films and we’ll do what we usually do when we play on the road -- talk to teams that have played there before in order to at least have the proper footwear options and that type of thing and then check out the conditions and the environment before we go out there," the Patriots' coach said.

Belichick was then asked if he noticed that the field looked different this year.

"Yeah, there’s a little bit of discoloration or different colors on the surface. But, you know, again, I think that’s normal. Any time you play on another field, especially one that you haven’t been on, prior to the game that’s one of the things you talk about is making sure that you go out there, walk the field, get familiar with the environment, the 40-second clock, the game clock, the lights or the wind conditions, whatever it happens to be.

"So when you go out for pregame warm-up, you’re prepared for all those things. Then you go out there in pregame warm-up and test it out. You test out your footing, you test out the lights or the sun or the wind conditions in various points in the stadium and that’s part of getting familiar with environment, the surroundings that you’re going to play in. We do that every week; we’ll do it this week. It will be like that in all of our away games."

Wes Welker's return doesn't go his way

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
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Wes WelkerAP Photo/Elise AmendolaWes Welker had four catches for 31 yards in his return to New England.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It was a situation that Wes Welker has been in countless times: Pressure moment. Gillette Stadium. A high, spiraling punt making its way through the air toward him as he stood deep in his own territory.

Welker often has turned those situations into something special, or at the least ensured that disaster was averted. That’s why what unfolded in overtime late Sunday night was a cruel twist for the New England Patriot-turned-Denver Bronco, as his slight indecisiveness contributed to the game-changing play -- the punt touching teammate Tony Carter with New England safety Nate Ebner recovering to set up the winning 31-yard field goal in the Patriots' 34-31 victory.

Welker said it’s his job to race up, wave his arms, and yell, “Peter! Peter! Peter!” if he decides against fielding the punt.

“I was probably a little late getting it to him,” he acknowledged. “I have to do a better job of getting up to him and getting those guys out of the way. I was a little bit in between, and you can’t be that way.”

Carter had been blocking Patriots gunner Marquice Cole, and thought he was setting up a return for Welker on the sky-high 42-yard punt that landed at the Broncos’ 15.

Welker explained his mindset as the ball soared through the air on a frigid, wind-whipped night, fans chanting his last name in an attempt to distract him.

“I just felt like there was a lot of traffic, it was a high ball, and basically didn’t want to get into a situation where somebody is running into me or anything else. It ended up with the situation that I didn’t want to happen in the first place,” he said.

Truth be told, this whole night could fall into that category for Welker.

He didn’t say it, but his highly anticipated return to Gillette Stadium, where he was an instrumental part of six successful Patriots seasons, had to be a bit bittersweet. One just had to follow him out of the Broncos' locker room afterward and see the meaningful embraces he had with several former teammates to understand that.

When Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia gave him a hug and the two exchanged a warm greeting, Welker said, “Miss you too, bud.” Then it was safety Devin McCourty, linebacker Dane Fletcher ... and right down the line. Welker even popped into the Patriots' players lounge after the game in a reminder that the strong bonds formed from 2007-2012 don’t just disappear.

On the field, his emotional day began when Patriots owner Robert Kraft approached him during warmups and the two hugged. Kraft must have told Welker to keep an eye on the scoreboard because Welker looked up about 10 minutes before kickoff to see a highlight montage the club put together for him, followed by a thank-you note that read: “The Kraft Family, the New England Patriots thank Wes Welker for six memorable seasons.”

Welker was touched.

“It was very, very classy of them to do something like that. I appreciate it very much,” he said. “It was a little different, for sure. It was great seeing Mr. Kraft. I have a lot of respect for him as a man and as an owner of a team. He’s a good one.”

Then there was Belichick, who sought Welker out after the game for an embrace, along with several others, including receiver Julian Edelman, who sprinted across the field to find him. Welker had joked with ESPN’s Tedy Bruschi in an interview that whatever exchange he’d have with Belichick would probably be awkward, but he struck a different tone after the game.

“It wasn’t awkward at all. It was good to see him. I have a lot of respect for him as a coach,” Welker said. “He came over and he was like, ‘Good job, we’ll see you all again, I’m sure.’”

Welker never did get to see his best pal, quarterback Tom Brady, even though he waited for him on the field afterward, only to call it off when Brady was pulled away from an NBC interview. “I kind of looked for him, but he’s Mr. Paparazzi after games,” Welker cracked.

Turns out Welker waited for Brady after both conducted interviews but the two couldn’t connect, adding to the downer of a night for Welker.

“You try to make it just a regular game. It’s hard at times, but you try to just go out there and focus and try to do your job,” he said, adding that he was unsure what the home crowd was chanting when he was back fielding punts.

It was “Wel-ker! Wel-ker! Wel-ker!” While the fans cheered Welker in the pregame during the classy highlight montage, they also razzed him a bit when he couldn’t hold on to a short pass on third-and-8 in overtime. “I just have to squeeze the ball in tighter on that and make that play,” he said.

Between that and the final punt, Welker was a big part in the outcome. Just not the way he hoped it would be.

Asked if the night helped give him closure from the Patriots chapter of his career, he shrugged.

“It probably would have been a lot better closure if we would have won,” he answered. “I had a lot of good years here and things like that, but I feel like I’ve had closure before and I’ve kind of moved on.”

Maybe so. But the words, much like the way Welker approached the game-changing punt in overtime, just weren’t very decisive.

Edelman outshines big-name receivers

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On the night when Wes Welker returned to Gillette Stadium for the first time as a member of the Denver Broncos, it was another receiver who often operates out of the slot who shined brightest.

Julian Edelman, the lone holdover from the New England Patriots' wide-receiver corps who had a reception last season, had his finest game of 2013, totaling 110 yards on nine catches, including two for touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeJulian Edelman
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaJulian Edelman goes the extra yard for one of his two touchdowns against the Broncos.
For perspective, the dynamic trio of Broncos wide receivers -- Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker-- combined for just nine catches, 77 yards and a single score on a chilly, windy New England night.

Beyond his receiving efforts, Edelman returned three punt returns for 39 yards, including a 20-yarder.

“Julian did a great job,” coach Bill Belichick said. “First of all, he did a good job of handling the ball, especially in the third and fourth quarter there. Made a couple good runs with the ball in his hands, also got open, caught the ball. The end route he got there gave us the field position in the overtime, it was a big play.”

The narrative of Edelman coming through for the Patriots this season has become almost commonplace, as he’s up to 61 catches, a career high and tied for 11th in the NFL with Dez Bryant and Jordy Nelson, names many associate with descriptors such as "elite."

“He’s been so dependable and consistent all year for our team,” quarterback Tom Brady said of Edelman. “He’s been the one veteran player on our offense that’s been in there and has been around. He always does a great job. He’s tough, smart, disciplined. It’s fun to see him do well because he deserves it.”

Edelman, the former college quarterback who generated minimal interest in free agency this offseason, is playing on a one-year, incentive-laden deal that carries a maximum value of just over $1 million. He’s well on his way to hitting his maximum incentives, as he needs just nine more catches to earn a $250,000 bonus.

But he has proven time and time again this season that his value to this offense is difficult to quantify.

"He’s been a good receiver," Welker said. "I've told a lot of people that he’s a good player. People are finally starting to take notice."

On few nights has that been more apparent than it was on Sunday, as Edelman was the star receiver in a game featuring the aforementioned trio of Broncos wideouts, as well as Danny Amendola, the free-agent acquisition who many envisioned would replicate Welker’s role in New England.

Edelman, true to form, remained humble following his effort.

“You know, I haven’t even thought about it,” he said. “Today, my number was called a few times and I was able to have to some opportunities and I just tried to take advantage of them.”

Patriots show Wes Welker highlights

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
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Welker
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On the scoreboard about 10 minutes before tonight's game, the Patriots showed a collection of highlights of Wes Welker's time with the team.

After the highlights was a note in which the Kraft family thanked Welker for six memorable seasons. Fans cheered after the highlights.

This is Welker's first game back in New England since signing with the Broncos this offseason.

Snapshot: Kraft greets Welker

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
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Patriots owner Robert Kraft met with Wes Welker on the field before Sunday night's game.

Bruschi: One-on-one with Welker

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
12:32
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video

ESPN analyst and former teammate Tedy Bruschi sat down with Denver Broncos receiver Wes Welker about his relationship with Bill Belichick, differences between the locker rooms in New England and Denver, similarities between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and more (video above). Here’s a partial Q&A:

Bruschi: Any hard feelings about the way things ended in New England?

Welker: "No, not at all. It's part of it. It’s the way the business model is set up. It's the way things go in pro sports these days. There's no hard feelings."

Bruschi: In an interview shortly after you signed with the Broncos, you mentioned Belichick was still in the back of your mind when you were answering questions. Are you over that?

Welker: "That was early on in the offseason, so you know how you’ve been ingrained being there for so long, ‘say this, say that,’ it’s just a way of thinking, the way you go about things. It was kind of weird. It was an honest quote at the time.”

Bruschi: Was there an immediate difference going from the Patriots' locker room to the Broncos' locker room?

Welker: "Yeah, absolutely. I think it's just different as far as the media in general. You have 15 reporters [in New England] trying to get you to slip up, just even a little bit, while in Denver it's a little bit of a different feel."

Bruschi: What’s the biggest similarity between Brady and Manning?

Welker: "One of the key things they really do is keep their teammates accountable. They do a great job of staying on top of guys and yelling when they need to, and lifting guys when they need to, and having private talks with guys when they need to. It's all those things that make a great quarterback."

Bruschi: Do you still have a good relationship with Belichick?

Welker: "I think so."

Bruschi: When you see Bill on Sunday night and there's a possible interaction, is it the head nod, is it the handshake, is it the hug or is it nothing?

Welker (laughing): "I think whatever the most awkward situation that could possibly happen, that’s probably what it's going to be."

Highlighting Pats-Broncos connections

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
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Each week we use this space to highlight players, coaches and staff members from the Patriots' upcoming opponent with a previous connection to the team.

While his status for Sunday night remains unknown, wide receiver Wes Welker, who spent six seasons with the Patriots, leads our list of current Broncos with ties to New England.

Welker
Wide receiver Wes Welker. Few receivers have ever had a six-year stretch like the one Welker produced from 2007 to 2012 in New England, surpassing 110 catches in five of those six seasons and setting the bar among NFL slot receivers. He signed as a free agent with Denver in the offseason and already has tied a career-high with nine touchdowns this season. A concussion suffered Sunday night has kept Welker off the practice field thus far this week.

Center Dan Koppen. The Patriots' longtime starter at center, Koppen signed with the Broncos after being released by New England last preseason. He stepped into a starting role in the absence of J.D. Walton and played well for the Broncos. An injury has landed Koppen on the injured reserve list, meaning he is out for the rest of the season. He was one of the Patriots' best draft choices under Bill Belichick (a fifth-rounder) and a key member of the offensive line during their back-to-back Super Bowl winning seasons.

Secondary coach Cory Undlin. Undlin is in his second season with the Broncos and his first as the secondary coach. He was a member of the Patriots' coaching staff in 2004 as a defensive coaching assistant before taking a quality-control job with Romeo Crennel when he left to become the Browns head coach.

Director of player personnel Matt Russell. Russell, a Butkus Award winner during his college playing career at Colorado, got his NFL scouting career started with the Patriots from 2001-05. He began as a pro scout before hitting the road as an area scout for three seasons. He is now in his second season as the director of player personnel for Denver.

National scout Adam Peters. Peters cut his teeth as a member of the Patriots personnel department from 2003-08, starting out as a player personnel assistant and working his way into an area scout job. He joined the Broncos in 2009, spending two seasons serving as the team's Western area scout. He shifted to a national scout role in 2011, the role he maintains today.

Nothing but respect for Welker as opponent

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In speaking to Patriots players this week about the return of Wes Welker to Gillette Stadium on Sunday night, their message has been two-fold: a mash-up of reverence for Welker as a player and an acknowledgement that playing against former teammates is a reality often faced in the NFL.

“That’s the one thing about the NFL, you’re playing against old teammates, guys that are going other places, every year,” defensive end and captain Rob Ninkovich said. “It’s not a new thing to play somebody you had on a team before, or were teammates with in college.

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“Wes is a great football player, but he’s not a part of the team,” he added. “We’re going to play him like we play everybody.”

The double-barreled sentiment is understandable.

Before heading to the Denver Broncos, Welker’s contributions over six seasons with the Patriots were immeasurable, and not just from a statistical sense.

“To me, I think it’s toughness,” fellow defensive captain Devin McCourty replied when asked what trait stuck out most about Welker. “Being able to run a route over the middle or run routes outsides, he’ll block you, he’ll do everything at that position, and I think that’s what makes him not just a good player, [but] a complete player.”

But the challenge for the Patriots this Sunday isn't simply finding a way to slow down Welker, as the Broncos boast the league’s best offense that is complete with an All Pro talent flanking Welker in Demaryius Thomas and upstart tight end Julius Thomas, as well as talented receiver Eric Decker.

And the defense, while less heralded, presents a unique challenge of its own.

“I’ve already expressed in the past how much [Welker’s] done for me,” wide receiver Julian Edelman said before adding. “And ultimately right now, I’m not going to jump into that because I’m [more] focused on the defense than who’s playing on offense.”

From that standpoint, it makes sense that the Patriots aren’t simply treating this Sunday with the feel of a reunion tour for a band that once was, presuming Welker takes the field after suffering a concussion last Sunday night.

Few doubt Welker will play, as McCourty echoed Tom Brady’s presumption from earlier this week that he will indeed suit up.

“We know he’s probably going to be out there, he doesn’t miss many games,” McCourty said. “We know that from playing with him and we expect to see him Sunday.”

On the outside, the return of Welker has generated more buzz than the storyline of the 14th game featuring Tom Brady and Peyton Manning sharing the same field.

For six seasons, the incomparably tough Welker produced on the field while maintaining a likable yet business-like approach off of it. He absorbed and shook off hits from hulking safeties and linebackers as if he had the stature of a fullback, getting up and back to the line of scrimmage like he had a coat of armor protecting him from contact. He played and practiced through injuries, displaying a toughness McCourty alluded to and that earned him respect from an entire region of fans.

Ultimately, the Patriots and Welker were unable to come to terms on a multi-year contract, leading him to sign with Denver.

It’s enticing to play the “what if” game and wonder if the Patriots' early offensive woes would have been partially alleviated had Welker been on the team this year.

Danny Amendola, the nominal Welker replacement, has dealt with injuries throughout the season, but, when healthy, he and Edelman have combined to give the Patriots more than respectable production from the slot position.

Would the Patriots have been better off keeping Welker? It’s a question we can never answer with certainty.

What we do know, both from the 672 regular-season catches he produced as a Patriot and the way his former teammates have spoken of him this week, is that Welker’s impact in New England was greater than anyone anticipated when the team acquired him in a trade during the 2007 offseason.

Far greater.

That’s why, despite some uncertainty surrounding his status for Sunday night’s game, the return of Wes Welker looms larger than any other storyline this week.

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