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It was the worst possible scenario. New England played its starters in a meaningless game, and one of them went down. Pro Bowler Wes Welker tore his ACL and MCL against the Texans last Sunday, and his season was over, with part of next season maybe gone as well.
It is a horrible blow for the Patriots and one that will leaves a few questions about whether New England make a push for the Super Bowl. Here are a few of the questions that come to mind right away:
The short-term answer is yes. When Welker went down earlier in the season, Edelman filled in against the Jets. He went for 98 receiving yards, with a long of 39. He seemed to become a regular part of the Patriots offense until he went down with a broken arm in the game against the Titans. He returned when the Pats faced the Colts, and he recorded his first career touchdown. During the Houston game, when Welker went down for good, Edelman came in and posted his first 100-yard game, averaging 10.3 yards per catch.
Edelman has often been called “Little Wes” for the Patriots, due to his similar role to Welker’s. He has the speed to be a slot receiver and haul in short passes. The difference is that Welker makes big plays after the catch, something Edelman has to learn to do. If he can take hits from the Baltimore defense and keep chugging forward, then Edelman will be a suitable replacement for Wes Welker.
Moss has had a great season and will most likely be a substitute for Welker on the Pro Bowl squad. However, he has not had a 100-yard receiving game since Week 10 against the Colts. His 75-yard performance last week was his highest total in seven weeks. When the Panthers said he packed it in, he responded with four touchdowns in two games. Randy Moss still has the speed and determination to beat opposing defenders as he tries to get his first Super Bowl ring.
Cornerbacks Chris Carr and Domonique Foxworth will both have to carry the load of guarding Moss. Edelman will not draw the attention Welker did, so everything will turn to Moss and Benjamin Watson, the second and third best receivers on the team. Randy will have more pressure on him and only time will tell if he’ll rise above the pressure, or pack it in.
Fact: Tom Brady has lost his favorite receiver in Wes Welker. Even after missing most of three games, Welker has 40 more receptions then anyone else on the team. His 123 catches were a league high. Without Wes, Tom Brady has lost his sure thing and needs to step up his own game.
Then again, if there was any quarterback you could trust when all seems lost, it’s Brady. He has two games where he connected with Edelman for over 200 yards. That will be the connection for short yardage passes, but Brady needs to be near perfect for any long balls. Connecting deep to Moss, or even Sam Aiken, opens the short lanes and will make Edelman’s life easier, which in turn will allow for Brady to take it easy.
Following his first injury, the Patriots went 1-1 without Welker. It took Brady a game before he got comfortable without having Welker in the lineup. During Week 2 against the Jets, Brady’s completion percentage was 48.9 percent. A week later, in a win against the Falcons, he was a completion short of 60 percent. If Brady is comfortable, and not feeling pressure from the Baltimore defense, then a repeat of the 27-21 victory in Week 4 should be possible, depending on whether the defense can stop the Baltimore running game.