There’s a collective psychosis in New England over the curious loss of Wes Welker, who signed a cheap two-year deal to play with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
The Patriots, for whatever reason, did not want to keep a slot receiver who is perhaps the greatest of all time and a potential future Hall of Famer. So they cheaped out on him and let him walk.
But the reality is that all the fretting about Welker is wasted time and talk.
The reality is this folks:
- New England’s fortunes have NOTHING to do with who plays slot receiver in 2013 or beyond.
- New England’s fortunes have EVERYTHING to do with finding a shutdown corner and pass rusher – two championship building blocks that the team has miserably failed to find for nearly a decade now.
This offense could quite literally collapse in 2013 without Welker. But the team can still contend, and even be better off, if they pair that offense with an improved defense. It’s no more complex than that.
With or without Welker, this team ain’t winnin' Super Bowls until it fixes the broken wheels on defense.
As we’ve proven, high-powered offenses, even the greatest of all time, simply do not win championships on their own. And as we've proven, with our Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law, wide receiver is the most overvalued position in football, and maybe in all of sports.
Our list of 10 statistical points below largely proves that winning championships in the NFL has little to nothing to do with wide receivers putting up big fantasy totals.
In the meantime, of course, losing Welker is blowing up in the face of the Evil Empire: replacing him with Danny Amendola for essentially the same money (and with a longer deal) is a downgrade by any measure. No way to put statistical lipstick on that pig.
Some reports say the loss of Welker pissed off Tom Brady, the receiver's bud and a franchise quarterback if ever one existed.
And the owner has egg on his face for apparently hinting to Brady that if he took a below-market deal, which he did, that he’d have all his favorite toys to play with this year.
So it looks bad and Patriots fans are shocked.
But the reality is that the New England Patriots have lost their way in recent years – have lost what it takes to win championships.
If the reaction of fans is any indication, the cheering masses in New England have lost their way, too. They’ve fallen in love with the fantasy stats. They’ve fallen in love with the glitzy, point-a-minute offenses of recent years and forgotten what it takes to win championships.
They’ve forgotten what it was like to watch the hard-nosed, efficient Patriots relentlessly grind opponents into dust and physically beat up the best teams in football; they've forgotten what it was like to watch a finely tuned football machine ride guile, balance, guts and toughness all the way to three Super Bowl victories in four years.
It’s been sad to watch the demise, with fans gleefully cheering it on all the while, like fiddling Neros of football, laughing at their empire's change of fortunes.
The team foolishly re-branded itself after the 2006 AFC title game, shedding its toughened championship skin in favor of a sexy facelift: pinball-sized scoreboard totals and gaudy fantasy stat totals paired with a neglected defense.
It hasn’t worked. The offense has consistently failed in the big game – including 13 points in the 2012 AFC title game after averaging 34.8 PPG in the regular season. And the porous defense has been unable to pick up the slack.
If this team is going to capitalize on the final few years of the Tom Brady Era with another championship or two, it MUST re-learn to play defense, especially pass defense. And it must accept the fact that throwing to the same guy 120 times a season – no matter how good he is – is not a formula for success.
Here are 10 reasons that losing Welker will simply does not matter in the big scheme of things ... provided the team does the right things on defense.
ONE – The Patriots won two Super Bowls, a record 34 games over a two-year period and a record 21 games in a row from 2003 to 2004. Those teams did not field a single 1,000-yard wide receiver.
TWO – Deion Branch led those teams with a total of 92 catches, 1,257 yards and 7 TDs over two years – about one season of work for Welker.
THREE – 12 times a player has caught more than 116+ passes in a season, three of those times by Welker. Welker is the only one on a team that won even a single playoff game.
FOUR – 24 of 47 Super Bowl champions did not have a single 1,000-yard wide receiver, including 14 here in the Live Ball Era (1978-present). Anquan Boldin led the 2012 Super Bowl champ Ravens with 65 catches for 921 yards.
FIVE – The Patriots have scored 500+ points a record four times, all since Welker joined the team in 2007. He is the only receiver in history to play on four teams that scored 500+ points.
Over that period, five of the six Super Bowl champs failed to score even 400 points, let alone 500: 2007 Giants (373); 2008 Steelers (347); 2009 Saints (510); 2010 Packers (388); 2011 Giants (394); 2012 Ravens (398).
SIX – The 2009 Saints, the only 500-point champ in that period, also ranked No. 3 in Defensive Passer Rating (68.6), the most important defensive indicator of championship potential. The 2012 Patriots ranked No. 17 in Defensive Passer Rating (86.9).
SEVEN – 101 players have caught more than 95 passes in a season. Only three of them played for championship teams: Jerry Rice (1994 49ers); Michael Irvin (1995 Cowboys); Troy Brown (2001 Patriots).
EIGHT – The Wes Welker Patriots averaged 31.4 PPG in the regular season, 24.0 PPG in the postseason, and 15.8 PPG in their playoff losses. The 2001-2004 Patriots averaged 24.2 PPG in the postseason and went 9-0.
NINE – The Patriots produced five non-offensive scores in nine playoff games during their Super Bowl seasons of 2001, 2003 and 2004; the Patriots have produced zero non-offensive scores in their 10 playoff games since 2007.
TEN – The Patriots went 12-2 in the playoffs from 2001 to 2006; they’ve gone 5-5 in the playoffs since 2007. Here’s how the Patriots have measured up in Defensive Passer Rating during their dynastic period.
You’ll notice a clear distinction between the championship-caliber pre-Welker defenses and the middling defenses since 2007.
- 2001 – 68.6 (3)
- 2002 - 78.2 (15) – missed playoffs
- 2003 – 56.2 (1)
- 2004 – 75.3 (7)
- 2005 – 87.8 (27)
- 2006 – 66.1 (2)
- 2007 – 78.1 (11)
- 2008 – 89.8 (23) – missed playoffs
- 2009 – 81.7 (13)
- 2010 – 81.2 (13)
- 2011 – 86.1 (20)
- 2012 – 86.9 (17)
It's not Welker's fault, of course, that New England lost its way and wasted his production. He can't catch 120 passes and play defense, too. But it really doesn't matter. Winning championships has little to do with throwing the ball to an elite slot receiver.
It doesn’t matter if Welker, Amendola, Jerry Rice or a tackling dummy is playing slot receiver next year if they don’t find defenders. They’ve been miserable at finding them and, even worse, miserable at developing them in recent years. With or without Welker, that trend had to change.
In the mean time, repeat after us heartbroken Patriots fans: “DE-fense! DEE-fense!! DEEE-fense!!!”