Welker takes blame for botched punt return

Welker takes blame for botched punt return
November 25, 2013, 2:15 am
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FOXBORO -- Wes Welker took his time on his way back into the the visitors locker room in Gillette Stadium.

A handful of his old Patriots teammates re-routed in order to find Welker and shake his hand or give him a hug. Patriots coach Bill Belichick embraced him like an old friend. "Good job. I'm sure we'll see you all again," Belichick told him. Julian Edelman ran Welker down from about 30 yards away to pay his respects.

Welker lingered a few extra moments alone in the corner of the stadium while cameras surrounded him. He was well behind his fellow Broncos, waiting to see if he should pursue one more former teammate, his good friend Tom Brady. When he saw the Patriots quarterback -- "Mr. Paparazzi" as Welker called him -- doing a television interview, he continued into the tunnel and out of sight.

If Welker was looking for closure in those last few moments on his old field Sunday night, it was hard to come by. The Broncos lost a 24-0 halftime lead and fell to the Patriots in an overtime instant-classic, 34-31.

"It probably would've been a lot better closure if we would've won," Welker said after. "I had a lot of good years here, but I feel like I've had closure before, and I've kind of moved on."

Welker had the best seat in the house to the play that ultimately forced him into the bowels of One Patriots Place defeated, much as he was 10 months ago when the Patriots lost to the Ravens in the AFC Championship game. That game ended on a Brady interception. This one ended -- for all intents and purposes -- when Broncos defensive back Tony Carter made contact with a Patriots punt and Nate Ebner fell on the loose live ball to set up Stephen Gostkowski's walk-off game-winning kick.

After the game, Welker, Denver's punt returner, took blame for the special teams play gone awry.

"I just felt like there was a lot of traffic, it was a high ball, [I] basically didn't want to get into a situation where somebody's running into me or anything else, and ended up with a situation that I didn't want to happen in the first place," Welker said. "I gotta do a better job of getting up there and getting those guys out of the way, and making sure it doesn't hit them."

Welker said he could have yelled "Peter!" -- the indication to get away from a punted ball -- sooner and possibly avoided the fateful play.

"I gotta get to him earlier and tell him, and get those guys out of the way if I'm not going to make the catch," Welker said. "I was a little bit in between and you can't be that way."

Welker finished the game with four catches for 31 yards, but lamented one drop on third down in overtime, which forced the Broncos to punt. It was Denver's final offensive play from scrimmage.

"I gotta squeeze the ball in tighter on that and make that play," he said. "That's part of it. Gotta make plays."

From start to finish, it was an unusual night for Welker. The Patriots ran a video tribute to him, which he watched. "It was very classy of them to do something like that," he said. "I appreciate it very much."

He met with Patriots owner Robert Kraft before the game, for the first time as an opponent. "It was a little different for sure," he said. "It was great seeing Mr. Kraft. Got a lot of respect for him as a man and as an owner of a team and everything else. He's a good one."

He watched one of his former teammates -- and at one point an apparent replacement -- Julian Edelman go off for a huge night with nine catches for 110 yards and two scores.

"He's been a good receiver," Welker said. "I've told a lot of people he's a good player, and people are finally starting to take notice."

He listened to Patriots fans chant his name -- "WEL-KER, WEL-KER" -- as he waited to return punts, but explained he couldn't decipher what it was they were saying.

And then there was the Belichick encounter, which he predicted last week would be significantly "awkward."

"I saw him after the game. It wasn't awkward at all," Welker said. "It was good to see him. Got a lot of respect for him as a coach, and he did a great job tonight getting those guys ready."

It was a lot for Welker to process. Not only the loss and its improbable nature, but the reunion in New England and the feelings that came with it.

"You try to make it just a regular game," Welker said. "It's hard at times. But you just go out there and focus and try to do your job. I'm sure there were some emotions."

Long after the game, as media members filtered back to the press box, and stadium workers shuffled back and forth to put the place to bed, Welker hung in the area outside the Patriots locker room. He met there with former teammate and Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher. He had a laugh with Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

He had hoped to meet up with with his good friend Mr. Paparazzi there. In all likelihood he did, getting the meeting, and perhaps a brief moment of normalcy, that had eluded him for most of the night.

But even that had to feel different.