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Sunday, December 2, 2012
Wes Welker still slips under radar

By Field Yates
ESPNBoston.com

MIAMI -- Long before 100-catch and 1,000-yard seasons were an annual ritual for Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, he spent two seasons finding his way in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins.

It was against his former team that Welker further cemented his legacy as one of the most productive receivers of his era, setting an NFL record on Sunday with his 16th career game with 10 or more catches and 100 or more yards.

Wes Welker
Wes Welker became the first player to have 100 receptions in five seasons.

Since arriving in Foxborough in 2007 (via a trade from the division rival), Welker has exceeded everyone's expectations.

Including his own.

"Obviously not like this," he said when asked if he envisioned his first five-plus seasons with the Patriots playing out as they have. "I knew I'd have a bigger role and I'd just try to take advantage of it."

With four seasons of more than 100 catches (and a fifth likely coming in 2012), and five seasons up over 1,000 yards, Welker continues to prove that he's not just among the top slot receivers in all of football, but that he's one of the best offensive players in the NFL.

Period.

Whether other players around the league feel the same way about him is not something that is on Welker's mind.

"I don't know," the 31-year-old replied when asked if he feels he is still disrespected despite his outstanding production. "I just try to go out there and do my job, and that's pretty much it."

By doing his job, and doing it in a professional manner and at an extremely high level, Welker serves as a mentor and teacher for his teammates.

"Wes is one to watch because he does it the right way," tight end Aaron Hernandez said. "And his performance every week shows what he can do. Why not look after someone like that?"

While in a literal sense Hernandez does not look up to the 5-foot-9(ish) Welker, the tight end looks up to the receiver for his play.

"I do. I look up to him. In my eyes he's 6-6, 6-7, he's Gronk's height," Hernandez said, comparing Welker to tight end Rob Gronkowski.

On Sunday, Welker once again played bigger than his stature, hauling in 12 catches for 103 yards, pushing his season total to 92 receptions and eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for the year.

He gave the Dolphins fits, no matter what they threw at him.

"They were mixing it up pretty well throughout the game and doing some different things," Welker said of how the Dolphins defended him.

But in the end, it didn't make a difference, with Welker pacing all receivers in both yardage and catches.

Following the game, Dolphins safety Reshad Jones lauded both Welker's craftiness and route running.

"He's very crafty," Jones said. "He does a great job on option routes, and he does a great job of getting loose."

Jones' tone echoes what opponents often say about Welker following 60 minutes of having to play catch-up with the slippery slot presence.

It's a testament to his consistency, an area that is very important to Welker.

"I definitely pride myself on it," he said. "Always trying to show up, and just do my job on a consistent basis. It's definitely a key part."

That consistency isn't lost on the quarterback whose immense trust in him is apparent every Sunday.

"He's an unbelievable teammate, player, friend, and nothing he does ever surprises me," Tom Brady said after the team clinched yet another AFC East title. "He expects the best out of himself every single day. What he brings to practice, he brings to the games. We couldn't be in this situation without him. I'm glad he's on our team, not the Dolphins."

And while Brady's appreciation for Welker is apparent, some may continue to overlook all that Welker has accomplished with New England.

He is a lynchpin in an offense that has perpetually ranked among the best in the league during his time as a part of it, and while other veteran wideouts have come and gone, Welker remains a stable force for his team.

Stable and consistent not just in his performance, but in his toughness. Few receivers take as many hits in vulnerable situations as Welker does, but rarely does he leave the field, even for a single play.

Following his team's 23-16 win over the Dolphins to clinch their fifth division title in Welker's six seasons as a Patriot, he said of the accomplishment, "I guess you get kind of spoiled at times."

Perhaps Welker's accomplishments go less heralded because those who follow him each week have been similarly spoiled.

But overlooking Welker is no longer an option.

He's long since earned his due.

Field Yates covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.