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The Patriots will limp into the playoffs next weekend, after losing not only Sunday’s game to the Texans, but also losing their Pro Bowl receiver, Wes Welker. As you all know by now, Welker was lost on just the third offensive play of the game, as his left knee buckled in the Reliant Stadium turf. While not officially confirmed, several reports indicate Welker tore both his ACL and MCL, which generally requires anywhere between 6 and 12 months of rehabilitation. So the loss on the scoreboard Sunday surely pales in comparison to the loss the team sustained in the opening minutes of the game.
And so now, the team will forge on without their “Little Engine That Could.” Tom Brady and the Patriots offense will turn their hopes to rookie quarterback-turned-receiver Julian Edelman to fill Welker’s role in the slot receiver spot. He did the job on Sunday, but can he do the job in the playoffs, well enough to key the four-game win streak needed for Super Bowl glory? Time will tell… it absolutely won’t be easy.
But before we turn our attention to the upcoming bout with Ray Lewis and the Ravens on Sunday afternoon, let’s first shine the light on a trio of Pats players who did have a quality day in the Lonestar State.
With the blink of an eye, the Pats’ rookie receiver’s importance multiplied after Wes Welker went down with the knee injury heard ‘round the world. On Sunday against Houston, Edelman rose to the occasion, leading the team with 10 receptions and 103 yards, both career highs. Looking towards next week, Baltimore will likely keep their top cornerback locked on Randy Moss, with safety help over the top as well, so hopefully Edelman can be productive enough over the middle to make the Ravens pay attention to him as well, freeing up Moss for at least a handful of deep balls downfield. Welker was clearly what kept the offensive machine plugged in, and now that role falls to Edelman. If Sunday’s performance was any indication as to how he’ll fare, things are looking up.
Another rookie here in the “PATS on the Back” column, and honestly, I really thought Butler would have made this piece weeks before this. Butler, the former UConn standout, came to the Pats from the ’09 draft with high acclaim. Sunday, he helped stall a Houston drive in the third quarter with his third interception of the year, followed by a 91-yard romp to the end zone, breaking the 13-13 tie and giving New England a lead they would eventually relinquish later. It was the biggest play of the game for the Pats, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough for the W. Butler has improved week after week here in his rookie campaign, and the Patriots will need the young defensive back to continue his development as the games wage on, this year and in the following years to come.
If it weren’t for Fred Taylor’s fumble that resulted in a second quarter Texans touchdown, I probably would have given the third nod to the veteran back, with his two touchdowns on the day. However, because of that gaff, I turn to kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Gostkowski made all three extra points on the day, which is of course not all that impressive. But while Houston’s Kris Brown was missing extra points and field goals all game long, Gostkowski added two lengthy field goals in the second quarter, of 51 and 43 yards, keeping the Pats in the game as long as he could. Gostkowski is a free agent this upcoming off-season, leaving Bill Belichick and personnel director Nick Caserio with a big decision to make. They let All-Pro kicker Adam Vinatieri fly the coop four years ago…will they do the same with Gostkowski?