INDIANAPOLIS — Reddened eyes and a hushed voice told the story for Wes Welker in Super Bowl XLVI.
The pass he dropped with four minutes remaining was a turning point against New England in the Patriots' 21-17 defeat to the New York Giants. No amount of consoling from teammates could convince him otherwise.
"That is one I'll have to live with," Welker said.
The Patriots led 17-15 with 4:06 remaining when Tom Brady dropped back to pass on second-and-11 from the New York 44-yard line. New England had driven 48 yards in nine plays after taking over possession at its own 8. Brady had Welker wide open to his left and 23 yards downfield. The pass was a bit behind Welker and high, but the receiver turned his body and got both hands on the ball.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time, he makes that grab," fellow receiver Deion Branch said. "It's football. Nobody's perfect."
Welker dropped five passes during the Patriots' first 18 games of the season, none on throws traveling more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He dropped a league-high 11 passes during the 2010 regular season, with drops defined as passes the receiver should have caught with ordinary effort, and only when the receiver is 100 percent at fault. But he also topped 100 receptions for the third time in five seasons since the Patriots acquired him in 2007.
"I mean, the ball is right there," Welker said. "I just have to make the play. It's a play I've made 1,000 times in practice and everything else."
Welker kept his composure as he spoke. It appeared to be a struggle.
"When it comes to the biggest moment of my life and I don't come up with it, it's discouraging," he said.
Brady might not have thrown the pass if not for a Giants breakdown.
"The man over me was playing a two-high look and the safety went to one-high and that is why it opened up for me like it did," Welker explained.
Giants safety Antrel Rolle said communication problems were at fault. The coverage was supposed to change when the Patriots adjusted their formation. The message didn't make it to everyone on defense.
"We were just on a little different page, but it happens," Rolle said. "You know, one mistake all game, we'll take it."
Will they ever.
"We just couldn't connect," Brady said of the pass for Welker. "He's a hell of a player. I'll keep throwing the ball to him for as long as I possibly can. He's a phenomenal player and teammate, and I love that guy."
Welker caught 122 passes for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season. He caught seven passes for 60 yards on eight targets Sunday.
Welker now has 18 receptions for 163 yards in two Super Bowl appearances for New England, both against the Giants and both in defeat. His drop wasn't the only turning point Sunday.
The Patriots still had the lead after the ball went through Welker's hands. They had a chance to convert on third down as well, but Brady's pass to Branch fell incomplete.
A defensive stand following Welker's drop also could have saved the game and spared Welker from his fate, but instead the Patriots allowed a 38-yard sideline strike from Eli Manning to Mario Manningham on the Giants' next offensive play.
Manning-to-Manningham worked again for 16 yards, and suddenly New York had first down at the New England 34 with 2:52 to play.
The Giants scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:04 left without even trying. Ahmad Bradshaw hoped to stop at the 1, which would have allowed the Giants to run down most of the clock before kicking the winning field goal. But instead they gave Brady one final possession with 57 seconds to play.
Welker would not get another chance.
Brady targeted Aaron Hernandez four times and Branch three times during a final desperation drive that ended with a 51-yard Hail Mary to the end zone that fell incomplete.
"It's one that will take a while to shake off, that's for sure," Welker said.