Welker not motivated by Phillips on big night


Welker not motivated by Phillips on big night

FOXBORO -- Wes Welker has been here before. People have criticized his height or his athleticism and the 5-foot-9 receiver from Oklahoma City has made each loose-lipped detractor look amazingly misinformed.

Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips accidentally added himself to the list this week. In the course of answering a question about Welker on Thursday, Phillips let one slip.

"Ah, Welkers not Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green," Phillips told ESPN.com, in response to a question asking if Texans corner Johnathan Joseph, who covered Green in their Wild Card game, might cover Welker. "Hes a good player, but hes not that big or a real athletic guy. Hes a quick guy that gets open on option routes. Texans defensive back Brandon Harris actually played him pretty good."

Welker said he paid no attention to Phillips' comments, but he exploded for a big game in New England's 41-28 Divisional Round win over Houston. He finished with eight catches for 131 yards -- his third-highest yardage total of the season.

"I'm really not too worried about that," Welker said about Phillips' comments from earlier in the week. "It's just all noise. I try to do my job the best of my ability."

In the second quarter, Welker proved his abilities include more than catching short routes over the middle. He streaked up the sideline and hauled in a 47-yard pass from quarterback Tom Brady to set up Shane Vereen's 8-yard touchdown reception that made the score 17-3.

Brady and the Patriots must have liked Welker's matchups throughout the night -- as they so often do -- as he was targeted a team-high 13 times. He had a couple of drops, including one on a pass over the middle after holding on to a catch moments earlier on a similar play when he took a vicious hit. But Brady's confidence in his favorite target never wavered.

With tight end Rob Gronkowski out for the remainder of the postseason, Welker's significant workload will likely remain that way. He'll continue to take big shots from oftentimes bigger defenders, and he'll continue to be Brady's most trusted weapon in the passing game.

"Wes is a tremendous receiver, a great competitor," Patritos coach Bill Belichick said. "Again, we feel like at times there was a good matchup with him in the slot. He did a good job in there. Again, Tom made some throws. Wes is quick to cover. Tom had some good weapons to work with and he was able to move it around and get it to a bunch of them. I thought we had good balance offensively. Overall it was pretty good."

After Phillips made his comments on Welker and found that they were being perceived by many as bulletin board material for the Patriots, he posted on his Twitter account: "Wes Welker is a great athlete and one of the best receivers of all time. twistthataround"

It was something Phillips probably didn't have to do. Welker had been there before, through high school and then college and then earlier in his NFL career as he tried to work up the ranks. He was used to people commenting on his stature and his athleticism.

But at this point he's one of the best receivers of his era. His numbers stack up against any other receiver's. At this point he doesn't need criticism to get him motivated. He's great without it. At this point, like he said, it's just noise.

Right now, he's more concerned about what's next.

"It's one step forward in the right direction," Welker said of the win. "It's one thing done that we've taken care of. Now we're moving on to the AFC championship, and we'll get ready for that."

Cassidy: Rask 'needed to be better' . . . and Rask agrees

Cassidy: Rask 'needed to be better' . . . and Rask agrees

BOSTON -- It's the wrong time of year for the No. 1 goaltender to struggle. 

But that's what's happening with Tuukka Rask and the Bruins. The former Vezina Trophy winner allowed five goals, including a couple of softies, on 28 shots in Thursday's 6-3 loss to the Lightning, which extended Boston's losing streak to four games. Rask is 3-6-0 in the month of March with a 3.01 goals-against average and .890 save percentage in nine games.

Rask had some good stops early in the game Thursday as the Bruins slogged their way through a slow start, but began to break down at the end of the second period while playing his third game in four days and 59th of the season. Still, interim coach Bruce Cassidy didn't seem inclined to use overwork as an excuse. 

"He needed to be better tonight," Cassidy said of Rask. "We needed to be better in front of him, and he needed to be better on some of those goals, It's March 23, so really, our focus needs to be there. You'd hope it's more fatigue than focus at this point in the year, but I can only speculate."

Tampa Bay's third goal was an odd-man rush with clear breakdowns in front of Rask, but he was also beaten high short side on his glove hand by Anton Stralman while squared to the shooter. Then in the third period Jonathan Drouin uncorked a shot from the face-off circle that beat Rask far-side under his glove hand for the game-winning goal. 

It was a soft goal any way you break it down, and it had Rask accepting responsibility postgame with a voice that softened and trailed off as he copped to his culpability. 

"You have to [pick up your team]," he said. "A lot of the time that's the case, the goalie has to make a couple extra stops there. [On Thursday] I didn't. That's part of my job to accept the fact that sometimes it's your fault. There were a couple of times I should've made the save but it happens sometimes . . .

"We're fighting for that last [playoff] spot, it doesn't matter who you play against. There are no easy games and everybody should know that. But, then again, look how we started the game, I don't think that was the plan. We got the late lead [in the second period], but then they came back every single time. Then they extended the lead there and got the win. It was just embarrassing."

The Bruins only hope is that Rask gets it back together and provides the brick-wall goaltending Boston is going to need to prevail in the next eight games. There's a good chance that Boston will be riding him the rest of the way, given Boston's currently narrow hold on a wild-card spot with just a couple of weeks to go. 

Ohio State LB on Belichick: 'When you first meet him, you're scared'


Ohio State LB on Belichick: 'When you first meet him, you're scared'

Even for some of the nation's top athletes, confident 20-somethings with the rest of their (perhaps very lucrative) lives ahead of them, there's a feeling you just can't shake when Bill Belichick walks into the room. 

"When you first meet him, you're scared," said Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan, per WBZ. "He's quizzing you. It's like a little test. But after you get done with the test, the quiz or whatever, drawing up the defense, it's pretty cool. They're real down to earth people. Really cool."

Belichick was spotted at Ohio State's pro day getting a closer look at McMillan and his teammates on Thursday. He then headed off to Ann Arbor, Michigan for the Wolverines showcase Friday.

During various scouting trips across the country, the Patriots appear to be showing significant interest in the incoming class of linebackers. Belichick spent some extra time with Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham -- who's projected to be a first-rounder -- at his pro day. The team reportedly scheduled a meeting with a speedy linebacker from Cincinnati. And Matt Patricia caught up with Notre Dame linebacker James Onwualu once his workouts finished up on Thursday. 

As for McMillan, the 6-2, 240-pounder was a second-team All-American and a first-team All-Big Ten choice. He's instinctive, but there's some question as to whether or not he has the strength to hold up inside at the next level.