- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino has spared Denver Broncos receiver Wes Welker of any wrongdoing for his hit on New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib in Sunday's AFC Championship Game.
"It was a legal hit," Blandino said on the NFL Network on Wednesday night.
On Monday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick blasted Welker for the hit, calling it "one of the worst plays" he's seen in 39 years of coaching.
"It was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib. No attempt to get open," Belichick said, never mentioning Welker, the former Patriots receiver, by name. "I'll let the league handle the discipline on that play."
There will be no discipline, as Blandino said Wednesday it wasn't a penalty.
"The first potential foul would be for offensive pass interference; a receiver can't block downfield before the ball is touched, so the timing is important," he said. "The contact occurs, the ball is touched almost simultaneously. We don't have a foul for pass interference.
"The other thing, is it unnecessary roughness? Under the current rules it isn't. It's not late; Talib wasn't out of the play. Unfortunately there was an injury, so just like in other situations when an injury does occur, the competition committee will take a look at this and determine if there needs to be a change. But under the current rules, this is a legal play."
Talib injured his knee on the play, left the game and did not return as the Patriots lost, 26-16.
Blandino said he has communicated with Belichick about the play.
"We talked about the situation and the play, and obviously there is a difference of opinion there and something that we'll continue to look at during the offseason," he said.
"The receiver ran right into the guy," Thurmond said Wednesday. "I don't know the extent of the injury Talib had, but I thought we were supposed to protect football players in this league now. I guess not. I guess that only goes one way."
Thurmond also said Welker's star status may have allowed him to get away with the hit.
"Some players get away with a lot more than other players depending on status, but that's just the nature of the game," Thurmond told the Post.