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Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Welker's worth not as simple as 123

By Tim Graham

What happens when you extract 123 receptions from the New England Patriots' offense?

We're going to find out Sunday afternoon, when they host the Baltimore Ravens without slot receiver extraordinaire Wes Welker.

Welker
"We're going to evolve a little bit as an offense now," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Monday on Boston sports radio station WEEI. "It was a very Wes Welker-oriented offense."

Welker suffered two torn left knee ligaments in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Houston Texans. Forget the playoffs. He'll be fortunate if he's ready to play next fall.

Welker led the NFL in receptions and gained 1,348 yards despite missing two games in September. He averaged 8.9 catches a game. Those are some blatant numbers, but he means more than that.

His presence impacts everybody else on the field.

"You can't replace him," Brady said. "There's no doubt about that. There's nobody that can substitute in for Wes and think that they're going to be Wes. He is everything you ask for.

"We've got to move on, and we've got to go out there and play, and everyone I think in different areas has to pick it up. I have to play better, Julian [Edelman] has to play better, Randy [Moss] has to play better. The offensive line, running backs, tight ends; we all have to do more. I think that's the commitment we have to make to one another."

ESPN Stats & Information illustrated Welker's influence by comparing how well the Patriots performed in his absence.

It must be noted Brady still was getting comfortable with his surgically repaired left knee when Welker was sidelined by a knee injury in Weeks 2 and 3. But the comparisons are stark.

When Welker was in the lineup this year, Brady completed 68 percent of his attempts, threw 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and had a 102.9 passer rating.

Minus Welker, Brady completed just 56.3 percent of his attempts, threw one touchdown and two interceptions and posted a 68.9 rating.

Brady's tosses to Welker have been described as extended handoffs, an extension of the Patriots' run game. But Welker opened-up downfield opportunities. Brady completed 59 percent of his throws 10 yards or farther with Welker in the lineup, but only 37 percent with Welker sidelined.

Welker helped Moss, too. Brady and Moss connected on 59.6 percent of 109 targets with 11 touchdowns when Welker was playing. They connected on 40.0 percent of 30 targets with zero touchdowns without Welker.