FOXBOROUGH — Without any solicitation for his opinion on the matter, Bill Belichick was quick to address Wes Welker’s open-field pick on Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib in Sunday’s 26-16 loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game. At a Monday morning press conference, the Patriots coach called Welker’s second-quarter hit “one of the worst plays I’ve seen.”
Talib was knocked out of the game on the play.
“I feel badly for Aqib, the way that play turned out,’’ Belichick said at the beginning of his season-ending wrapup. “I went back and watched it, which I didn’t have a chance to [Sunday]. It was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib.’’
The play came with the Broncos leading, 3-0, and facing a second-and-9 from their own 19 with 13:34 left in the half. Denver came to the line of scrimmage in a four-wide formation with quarterback Peyton Manning in the shotgun, Welker lined up in the right slot, and Demaryius Thomas, Manning’s intended target on the incomplete pass, lined up as the sole receiver on the left.
Talib was rolled up in press man coverage on Thomas.
Thomas broke from the formation and led Talib across the middle from the left side while Welker came running across from the right. Welker leveled Talib with an open-field hit that knocked the Patriots’ best cover cornerback out the game with a left knee injury.
Belichick said that Welker made “no attempt to get open.’’
“I’ll let the league handle the discipline on that play,’’ he added. “It’s not for me to decide. It was one of the worst plays I’ve seen and that’s all I’m going to say about that.’’
Talib had little to say about the play after Sunday’s game.
“I can’t even remember how the play went,” Talib said. “I was just upset [at being hurt].”
Welker denied that he was trying to hit Talib.
“It was one of those plays, it was kind of a rub play and I was trying to get him to go over the top and I think he was thinking the same thing and wanted to come underneath, and you know just kind of collided,’’ Welker explained. “It wasn’t like I was trying to hit him or anything like that.
“I hope he’s OK. He’s a great player and a big part of their defense.’’
When asked if Welker’s hit sent a message to the Patriots, Thomas said, “I don’t know if it was a message. It was kind of a pick play. It was a big collision and it knocked him out of the game. The main thing was to come out and play physical as a whole group and that’s what we did.’’
Andre Carter, the Patriots veteran pass rusher, echoed Belichick’s criticism later on Monday.
Said Carter, “It was unfortunate that he went down in one of the biggest games of his life, that was definitely disappointing.’’
Asked if he thought Welker targeted Talib, Carter said, “Unfortunately, that was nasty. I’m sure the NFL will review that and see what they can do to rectify those particular plays. Fortunately, Talib was able to walk, but if it got a lot more serious, who knows what would’ve happened?
“People will say it was dirty and people will say it was nasty. I can’t really say it was uncalled for, but the play was unacceptable. At the end of the day, they won and we’re moving forward.”