DENVER -- The Patriots were going to have a difficult time dealing with the Broncos receivers at full strength.
When their best cover man, Aqib Talib, got demolished by Wes Welker in the second quarter and couldn’t return, it became damn near impossible.
“That was a key play in the game,” Bill Belichick said when asked what his impressions of the play were. “I’ll take a look at it on replay but it was a key play in the game.”
It will bear a closer look because Talib, trailing his man Demaryius Thomas on a crossing route, met Welker full speed over the middle. Talib’s leg and ribs were injured on the play.
Belichick said there was no question Talib couldn’t get back on the field.
“No more competitive guy in the locker room than Talib,” said Belichick.
Hits on defenseless players are something the league is trying to banish. This wasn’t a clear-cut foul, though, because the fine print doesn’t protect defenders from being blocked. The ball was hitting Thomas’ hands at the precise time Welker was drilling Talib. Or maybe a split second earlier. Given the track Welker was following and the way he veered into Talib, his intention for contact was clear.
Welker said after the game that the contact was unintentional.
“It was one of those plays where it’s kind of a rough 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 we just kind of collided,” Welker said. “It wasn’t a deal where 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.”
Walking with a pronounced limp, Talib was about to leave the locker room without speaking to reporters but was flagged down by the Patriots media relations staff.
He gave clipped responses to the four questions posed. He said it was very difficult to sustain an injury in a game of this import (he was also injured in the AFC Championship against Baltimore last year).
Asked if he tried to get back on the field, Talib said, “If I could have been out there, I would have been out there, man.”
He said he couldn’t “even remember how the play went” thereby absolving Welker of any blame.
There is, of course, irony that Welker -- a former Patriot -- was the player to deal the Patriots this blow. The irony deepens with the fact it wasn’t via a catch but a block.
Peyton Manning said the Broncos certainly noticed Talib’s departure.
“Talib’s an excellent player,” said Manning. “Demaryius was going to be a part of our game plan no matter who was guarding him. Once Talib went down we certainly felt we had to get the ball to him.”