MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Before flying to South Beach with his teammates, Patriots receiver Wes Welker was reminded about his pass-catching prowess against Miami, the team that traded him away more than five years ago for a pair of draft picks.
“We’ll see,” Welker said late last week. “You’re only as good as your next game.”
In Welker’s case, his next game is usually like his last game, or the game two weeks ago, or two months ago, or two years ago. Consistency, long a staple for the Patriots under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, might also best describe their diminutive receiver, who continues to produce, regardless of the opponent.
But when the foe is Miami, Welker seems to pick his game up even another notch, if that’s possible.
By catching a game-high 12 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots’ 23-16 win over the Dolphins on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium, Welker worked his way once again into the record books, both the team and league versions.
“He’s an unbelievable player and teammate and friend, and nothing he does ever surprises me,” said Brady, who threw Welker’s way 18 times. “He expects the best out of himself every single day, and that’s what he brings to practice, that’s what he brings to the games. We couldn’t be in this situation without him.
“I’m glad he’s on our team and not on the Dolphins.”
Welker used to call Miami home, swimming with the Fish from 2004-06, when he caught 96 passes for 1,121 yards and one touchdown. Then he was dealt to the Patriots in 2007, changing scenery and the course of his career, the perfect complementary piece to New England’s offense.
He’s needed just five-plus seasons to become the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions, and Sunday’s game sent him over 1,000 yards for the fifth time in six seasons as a Patriot. By catching 12 passes, he also earned his 17th game with at least 10 receptions, which ties Hall of Famer Jerry Rice for the NFL record. His 103 yards broke a tie with Rice and Andre Johnson, both of whom had 15 games of 10 catches/100 yards.
“Any time you’re in the same sentence as Jerry Rice on anything, it’s definitely something to take pride in,” Welker said. “But at the same time you just have to move forward and keep on playing.”
With tight end Rob Gronkowski still out with a forearm injury, it’s obvious Welker was a massive part of the game plan against Miami. He was targeted 13 times in the first half alone, catching 10 balls for 89 yards before the break. His 7-yard touchdown pass from Brady early in the second quarter gave the Patriots a 14-3 lead.
Along with tight end Aaron Hernandez (eight catches), Welker was a primary target nearly every time Brady dropped back to pass.
“His numbers speak for itself,” Hernandez said. “He makes plays, he always gets open. He’s definitely someone I look up to.”
Look up to? Hernandez is 6 feet 1 inch, while Welker is listed — generously, perhaps — at 5-9.
“I do, I look up to him. In my eyes he’s 6-6, 6-7. Gronk’s height,” Hernandez said. “Wes is one to watch because he does it the right way and his performance every week shows what he can do. So, why not look up to someone like that?”
The Dolphins probably don’t look down on Welker anymore, but they’ve certainly had a hard time time defending him since the trade. In the 10 games Welker has played against his former team, he’s caught 87 passes for 1,084 yards. He’s been at his best at Sun Life Stadium, averaging 126 receiving yards in six games, and going over 100 yards in five of them. All five of his touchdowns against the Dolphins have come on the road.
“I want to have good games against everybody, so this is no different,” Welker said. “I knew I’d have a bigger role [with the Patriots], and I’ve just tried to take advantage of it.”
He’s done that, time after time after time. Which brings us back to consistency.
“I definitely pride myself on it,” said Welker, ignoring the hat and T-shirt that had been placed in his locker, signifying another AFC East title, the team’s fourth straight. “I just go out there and try and do my job to the best of my ability, just do my job on a consistent basis.”