I will always remember where I was when I found out Wes Welker had signed with the Denver Broncos. It was a sunny spring afternoon. I was in the park with my wife and son, and my thumb couldn't work my cell phone fast enough. While I certainly felt uneasy about everything that was playing out, I didn't know that it would be the move that would keep the Patriots from reaching Super Bowl XLVIII.
It was not because the Patriots would be unable to make up for his production. Julian Edleman and his 100+ catches and 1000+ yards was as Welker-like as any player I've seen. It was not because the Denver Broncos needed his catches to get past New England in the AFC Championship game. He had a meager four catches for 38 yards. No, Wes Welker cost the Patriots a legit shot at the Super Bowl because he took out one of the two players that New England absolutely could not afford to lose in Aqib Talib.
Once Talib was out of the game, the New England defense was powerless to stop Peyton Manning. Every drive other than the final kneel out ended in a score for the Broncos. All season long, the Patriots had rallied despite losing their two starting interior defensive linemen, two starting linebackers, their starting right tackle, and their all-world tight end. They had everyone shaking their heads, wondering how it was possible that this team could continue its winning ways. As each injury piled up, we wondered how many more losses this team could endure. Today, we got our answer.
For the second AFC Championship in a row, Aqib Talib was taken out of commision. For the second AFC Championship in a row, the floor fell out from under the New England defense the second he left the game. I almost wonder if the Patriots would have been better off losing Brady than Talib. That's how badly that injury hurt this team's chances.
I wish this team had a fair shot at the Broncos today. I don't know if they would have won, but I would have liked to at least see them have the chance. The Broncos scored 26 points. I can promise you they don't score 26 points with Aqib Talib playing all four quarters. With the Broncos not chewing up five and seven minute drives, maybe Brady and the offense gets the ball a few more times, finds their groove and scores more than 16. Again, I'm playing fantasy football at the moment and what's done is done. There's no sense in pondering what would have happened the rest of the game following such an early injury. Still, I would have liked to see the Patriots have that chance. This team fought so hard all season, they deserved to be taken out by a team that could rise up and flat-out beat them. They didn't deserve to lose because of a illegal pick play by Wes Welker.
This team refused to make excuses all season. I won't diminish their heroic display this season by making any for them now. I have never been prouder of any Patriots team. That's not to say I haven't been as proud of others, but I've never been prouder. And so, I bring to you, the final Risers and Fallers for the 2013 New England Patriots Season.
|Matt Patricia||Defensive Coordinator|
|Josh McDaniels||Offensive Coordinator|
|Dante Scarnecchia||Assistant Head Coach|
|Bill Belichick||Head Coach|
I couldn't be prouder.