Brady on Welker: We want everyone fresh at the end of the year

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Brady on Welker: We want everyone fresh at the end of the year

Tom Brady and Wes Welker have been the most prolific passing combination in the NFL since 2007. That Welker didn't start yesterday's 20-18 loss to the Cardinals came as a surprise to most, especially since there haven't been very many signs of Welker's ability beginning to fade.

There are several reasons why the Patriots may have chosen to go with Julian Edelman over Welker. But on his weekly interview with WEEI Monday morning, Brady said that one of the reasons Welker played fewer snaps than Edelman -- 63 to 75, according to ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss -- is that the Patriots may be trying to keep Welker fresher later in the season.

"It was just a personnel grouping where Welker's not in the game," Brady said when asked about New England's first few offensive plays Sunday. "We have a lot of different personnel groupings with him in the game. There's a lot of guys on the roster, and we're trying to utilize every player so that at the end of the year one guy doesn't have 700 plays and another guy has 50 plays. Hopefully everyone can contribute and have opportunity and be fresh and stay healthy. Because we need everybody. It's a long year."

Brady also praised Welker's work ethic, perhaps in order to quell rumors that Welker must have broken a team rule or done something wrong in coach Bill Belichick's eyes to earn his benching.

"I love Wes. He's like one of my best friends. What he does on a daily basis to prepare himself really motivates everybody else," Brady said. "He's a leader. He's so tough. I've been in so many critical, critical situations with him where he's worked so hard to do the right thing and be in the right place and make the play. He's a phenomenal player."

Aside from the fact that Edelman started over Welker, the other big development to come out of yesterday's game was the loss of Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who left with an ankle injury.

Brady admitted that Hernandez plays a big role in the offense, but the quarterback still felt as though his tight end's departure from the game was not the reason why the offense scuffled and scored only one touchdown against the Cardinals.

"I didn't really feel that way," Brady said. "He's a big part of what we do and he's out there on the field quite a bit. I thought we just pretty much moved on, though, tried to adjust with some different personnel groupings and formations and such. But I don't think we were really shell-shocked that he wasn't in there. I thought we tried to react -- and we didn't have a great first half, by any stretch."

That was thanks in part to the defensive effort put forth by the Cardinals. Though they entered Foxboro as largely unheralded 14-point underdogs, Brady said he wasn't surprised at the stinginess of the Cardinals 'D.'

"They pretty much did what they did all day and pretty much what they've been doing all preseason, and even going into last year," Brady said. "So, it wasn't a ton that really surprised us. It was just a matter of, really, they have a good team. They have some very, very good players, very disruptive front, good guys in coverage, they disguise things pretty well. But our execution wasn't great, even when we really had them figured out. That's why you get beat, is you have chances to make plays and you just don't make them."

Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

It came against a rookie quarterback. It came against an offense that averages a league-worst 15.0 points per game. It came against an offense that has fewer yards than any other. 

Still there are signs that Bill Belichick is pretty pleased with where his defense is after beating the Rams 26-10 on Sunday. One came on Wednesday when Patriots.com published its "Belichick Breakdown" for a closer look at a handful of plays from the team's most recent win.

Belichick called his team's third-and-eight stop with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter "probably one of the best good, team defensive plays we've had all year."

The Patriots show a five-man front, but linebacker Kyle Van Noy feigns a rush only to drop into coverage.

"Van Noy in here does a good job on the rush," Belichick said, "and also on the coverage on the back. Just good team defense. Good pass coverage down the field. The quarterback really doesn't end up having a lot of time, but there's no one to throw it to right away."

Belichick noted that all four rushers -- Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Dont'a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich -- all are able to pressure Jared Goff on the play. Combined with strong coverage in the secondary, the Rams nver really had a chance.

Belichick said it looked like a "tidal wave" of defenders bearing down on the quarterback.

"Long wins here . . . on the inside spin," Belichick said, "and Trey Flowers and Hightower both win on the little twist game inside. Then that's Rob with good speed-to-power on [Rams tackle Rob] Havenstein on the outside. Four good rushers. Plus a fifth guy...Van Noy getting that two-for-one on the guard and the back.

"Good team defense. That's great to see. A lot of hard work an execution on the practice field to make that happen."

Harbaugh on Belichick: 'I feel like we have a good relationship'

Harbaugh on Belichick: 'I feel like we have a good relationship'

FOXBORO -- They sounded like a couple of old pals. 

First it was Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who spoke of Ravens coach John Harbaugh during a conference call like one of his favorite fellow lacrosse dads.

"John and I saw a game a couple of years ago, a [Johns] Hopkins vs. Maryland game," Belichick said, adding that Harbaugh's love for the sport is just starting to blossom. "Yeah, I think John is seeing the light."

Belichick added that the two might be closer if they weren't competing so often, both in-season on the field and for free agents in the offseason. 

"As you know, we get into a situation like we’re in now where they have a good team, we have a good team, we’re playing a big game on Monday night," Belichick said. "Both teams are going to do everything they can to compete as hard as they can on Monday night. That’s what it is and that’s what we all signed up for. We all know that’s a part of it.

"When we’re not going head-to-head, which isn’t very often because we compete against each other in the offseason, we compete against each other to build our team and so forth, it just puts things in a little bit of a different situation."

During his press conference with reporters on Wednesday, Harbaugh echoed Belichick's sentiments. Belichick was famously one of Harbaugh's biggest supporters earlier in his career, calling the Ravens on Harbaugh's behalf when the franchise was looking for a new head coach. And if only they weren't so frequently competing against each other, they might be even closer, Harbaugh indicated. 

"I feel like we have a good relationship," Harbaugh said. "Like you said, we're probably not socializing that much, but I don't know how many coaches really do. We're all so busy. I'll see him or any coach at the Combine or at the owner's meetings, and we have a chance to talk. It's always good. I have a ton of respect for him. I really like him as a person. I think he's a great coach -- greatest coach of this generation. He's earned that title.

"And I study him. I've always studied him. I've always studied coach Belichick from when I first met him when I was an assistant at the University of Cincinnati, and he came in and just was great to be around.  [We have a] similar background with the special teams and that sort of thing. All of that kind of goes out the window when you compete against one another. It's like anything else, you want to win. I'm sure he feels the same way."

The recent history between their respective franchises is rife with emotion: There was Baltimore's irate reaction to Belichick's unusual formations in the AFC Divisional Round two seasons ago; there was the Ravens' supposed involvement in sparking Deflategate; and there was Harbaugh's subsequent denial. But Belichick and Harbaugh made it sound on Wednesday as if all's good between them.