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PATS on the Back: Patriots vs. Panthers, Week 14

Wes Welker (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

After a brief Week 13 hiatus, “PATS on the Back” is back in action this week. Frankly, after that 22-21 brutal loss down in Miami, did ANY Patriots player deserve ANY praise at all? Nah, I didn’t think so either.

But this week, while it wasn’t a pretty 60 minutes of football, it was a win. It was a 20-10 win over a struggling Carolina Panthers team that ended the team’s two-game losing streak, and a win that the Pats can hopefully build from. With three AFC opponents remaining, there is no room for error going forward, especially with both the Dolphins and Jets winning on Sunday, remaining just one game behind New England.

So while there was still plenty of fodder for the Pats’ pessimists around the nation (thanks to #81 most of all), here is where we drop a heavy dose of positivity to the Patriots faithful. And of course, like we have in many weeks before, we start with a no-brainer of a pick.

Wes Welker, WR

While Ben Watson made the catch in the end zone on the third quarter drive that gave New England the lead for good, it was Welker’s five catches for 62 yards that keyed that drive and kept the chains moving. Honestly, he was clearly the best player on the field on Sunday, not only for that drive, but for all 60 minutes.

While other receivers in Patriot red, white, and blue look to be dogging it, it’s Welker that shines with maximum effort. Welker, who had 10 grabs for 105 yards in total, now leads the league with 105 catches, 18 more than anyone else (Reggie Wayne is 2nd with 87). His 105.3 yards per game is the third highest mark this decade and seventh highest since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The record for receptions in a season was set by Marvin Harrison in 2002 with 143. That mark seems out of reach for Welker this season, but he should reach the #2 spot on that list, as the current #2 is Herman Moore, who put up 123 catches in 1995.

The bottom line is that Welker is who keeps this Patriots offense moving. New England can’t be counted out in any game if Tom Brady and Wes Welker are on the field.

Laurence Maroney, RB

Now look, I have been driving the Maroney Criticism Bandwagon since his rookie year. He dances too much. He’s too fragile. We should have picked Joseph Addai instead. All that stuff being said, Maroney led a very productive running attack on Sunday, rushing for 94 yards on 22 carries.

Looking down the stretch, there is no doubt the Pats’ running game will definitely be working overtime, especially over the next two weeks with the December weather in the Northeast (at Buffalo on Sunday, then at home hosting Jacksonville in Week 16). Ball control and clock management will be keys to victory in the upcoming must-win games.

An honorable mention goes out to veteran back Kevin Faulk, who complemented Maroney’s production with 58 yards on 10 carries, including a 3-yard score in the final minutes of the first half.

Stephen Gostkowski, K

Kickers never get any respect, but this week, Stephen Gostkowski surely deserves some. Clearly the wet and windy weather was working against the kicking game at Gillette on Sunday, but it was Gostkowski’s two lengthy field goals that solidified the victory for the Pats. After Carolina cut the Pats’ lead to four early in the final quarter, Gostkowski’s two field goals of 48 and 47 yards, definitely no chip shots, gave New England breathing room down the stretch.

It will be interesting to see what the Pats do with Gostkowski in the offseason. Re-signing the former Pro Bowler seems like it should be a priority for the team, but predicting this team’s personnel moves is nearly impossible to do.

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