Another year, another AFC Championship game in which the New England Patriots are playing for a chance to play in the Super Bowl.
Just think about that for a minute. New England is in their seventh conference title game since 2001. If the Patriots defeat Baltimore on Sunday, they will be going to their sixth Super Bowl in 12 years. It’s unheard of, especially in the era of free agency, that a team can be this great for so long.
However, in order to get back to the big game in two weeks, the Patriots will need 110% from the man who has been a staple in the organization for the last six years.
Despite being among the league leaders in dropped passes, Wes Welker is still the most dynamic pass catcher the Patriots have. And with Rob Gronkowski out for the remainder of the postseason with a broken arm, it’ll be up to Welker to once again carry the load for New England.
Welker had eight catches for 131 yards in New England’s 41-28 victory over the Houston Texans last weekend. All of his catches came after the team lost Gronkowski to injury.
Welker has been the workhorse for the Patriots since the team acquired him from the Miami Dolphins in 2006, especially in the playoffs.
In eight career playoff games, Welker has averaged 7.6 catches and 71.8 yards per game. He’s only had two games of over 100 yards: 2008 against the New York Giants and last week against Houston. However, he has never had a playoff game in which he has been held to less than 6 catches and 50 yards.
While the yardage per contest doesn’t necessarily jump out at someone, it’s when those catches come, and the result of them, that has been key to the Patriots success in the postseason.
Out of his 61 career postseason receptions, 25 of them have gone for a first down. That’s 41% of his receptions. Even when you look a bit more into it, the numbers are still impressive. Of those 25 first down gaining catches, eight of them have come on third down.
This week the Patriots are going to need Welker to continue to make plays with his speed, and pick up crucial first downs. They are running into a Baltimore team that is playing its best football and is motivated to get Ray Lewis one more championship before he retires after this year.