FOXBOROUGH - The pace of Wes Welker’s season had slowed a bit through October and November, but he has ramped things up again after an 11-reception, 114-yard performance yesterday against the Colts.
It was the second straight week Welker has eclipsed 100 yards and the seventh time this season.
With four games to play, the 30-year-old has NFL highs in receptions (93) and receiving yards (1,253).
Yesterday, Welker passed Irving Fryar (5,726) for third place on the Patriots’ all-time receiving yardage list. Welker has 5,789 yards in four-plus seasons in New England. Troy Brown is second with 6,366 and Stanley Morgan is the franchise leader at 10,352.
On the Patriots’ first drive of the second half Tom Brady, working out of the no-huddle, looked to Welker on four of the first five plays, and he caught all four (Welker was targeted 11 times yesterday and caught every one) for 34 yards.
New England went on to score and take a 24-3 lead.
“We were able to kind of take advantage of going fast and have them line up in a lot of zone,’’ Welker said. “They were trying to get lined up more than anything. It was a matter of spacing and Tom finding the open guy and moving the ball down the field that way.’’
New England opened a 31-3 lead by the end of the third quarter, though Welker didn’t play a role in the final touchdown drive.
Like many of his teammates, Welker was concerned with the team’s poor play in the fourth quarter.
“We were able to get a good lead. From there we have to finish a lot better than we have been the past few weeks,’’ Welker said. “I’m sure that’s going to be a huge emphasis by coach [Bill Belichick] and something we have to do.
“If we don’t play four quarters, we’re not going to end up in the situation we want to be in. We have to fight on through and convert on third downs, move the ball down the field, and ultimately score.’’
Yesterday was the 13th time Welker has registered 10 or more catches in a game.
Hall of Famer Jerry Rice is the all-time leader with 17 such games.
With 1,253 yards, Welker already has the fifth-best season in franchise history. At his current rate, he’ll break Randy Moss’s team record of 1,493 set in 2007.
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning signed autographs and shook hands before the game. Manning, who hasn’t played this season because of a neck injury, was grateful for the reception he received from Patriots fans.
“These Patriots fans, who obviously while I’m playing through the years, like good fans, they make it tough on the opposing quarterback,’’ he said. “But they were sincere about, ‘Hey, I hope you get back. We miss seeing you out there. Sorry you’re not playing this game.’ So it was classy. I was real appreciative.’’
Manning was touched the adulation came from the fans of his biggest rivals.
“This is such an intense rivalry,’’ he said. “Your own fans are going to tell you they miss seeing you out there and get back soon, but when kind of your biggest rival does it, I don’t think they’d be saying it if they didn’t mean it.’’
Chad Ochocinco energized fans at Gillette Stadium with his only catch of the game in the second quarter. Facing third and 8 at the Indianapolis 41, Brady connected with Ochocinco for a 12-yard gain. Fans let out their loudest roar of the day for Ochocinco, giving the receiver a standing ovation after he made his first catch since Nov. 13 against the Jets. The Patriots went on to score a touchdown on the drive.
The right call
The Patriots continue to excel on challenges this season. In the first quarter, Belichick challenged a ruling that Kevin Faulk fumbled. After review, it was determined that Faulk’s elbow was down and the call was overturned. This season, the Patriots have been successful on six of eight challenges, one of the better rates in the league.
Chung still out
Safety Patrick Chung was inactive for his fourth consecutive game because of a foot injury he suffered in the final minutes against the Giants Nov. 6. Chung was limited at practice all week and was seen on the field with the training staff before the game. Other inactives included running back Shane Vereen (hamstring), linebacker Dane Fletcher (thumb), linebacker Brandon Spikes (knee), offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (foot/back), quarterback Ryan Mallett, and center DanConnolly (groin).
McCourty turns corner
The Patriots had some good news on the injury front as cornerback Devin McCourty started for the first time since separating his shoulder against the Jets Nov. 13 . . . Linebacker Jerod Mayo picked up the first interception of his career, picking off a Dan Orlovsky pass in the fourth quarter, boosting the team total to 17 . . . Brady is on pace to throw 40 touchdown passes for the second time in his career. He has 30 touchdowns through 12 games and if he reaches 40, he would join Dan Marino as the only players in NFL history to have two seasons with 40 or more . . . Nate Solder started at right tackle in place of Vollmer, but he didn’t stay there throughout the game. On several occasions, when New England used a jumbo package, Marcus Cannon came on at right tackle and Solder was used as the third tight end . . . With his two touchdown passes, Brady moved past Johnny Unitas and is now tied with Warren Moon for sixth in NFL history with 291. It is fitting that he would pass Unitas in a game against the Colts, as Unitas was the face of the Baltimore Colts for 17 seasons. Broncos legend John Elway (300) is fifth all-time . . . Rob Ninkovich recorded a sack to boost his season total to a career-best 4 1/2 . . . Patriots owner Robert Kraft hosted casino mogul Steve Wynn in his luxury suite yesterday.