ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — There’s no longer any bad blood between Bill Belichick and Wes Welker heading into the showdown Sunday between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos.
Belichick said he has long gotten over Welker’s hit that sidelined then-Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib in the AFC championship.
At the time, New England’s often cantankerous coach called it “one of the worst plays” he’d seen in nearly four decades of coaching and asked the NFL to look into it.
The league ruled the hit was legal.
“Way past that,” Belichick said in a conference call with Denver media Wednesday. “I have a lot of respect for Wes and what he did for us and what he’s done for the Broncos and what he’s done throughout his career.”
Welker took out Talib, now his teammate in Denver, on a pick play at the line of scrimmage in the second quarter of Denver’s 26-16 victory in January. Talib went to the locker room with a bruised knee and didn’t return.
With the Patriots’ best cover player out, Peyton Manning finished with 400 yards passing and two TDs — nearly 300 of those yards coming with Talib sidelined.
When Talib signed a free agent deal with Denver this spring, he called Welker, “a good friend of mine,” and said, “I watched that play 1,000 times and I can promise you he didn’t do it on purpose.”
Welker, who played six seasons in New England before coming to Denver in 2013, got over the brouhaha even faster than his old boss.
“I moved on to getting ready for the Super Bowl,” Welker said Wednesday. “So, it’s the same for me. It’s in the past and I’m just really kind of looking forward to this game.”
He’s hoping it’s better than his homecoming last year, when his muffed punt in overtime led to New England’s 34-31 win in overtime.
Welker said he’s “probably a little more comfortable with it” this time around as the Broncos (6-1) prepare to face the Patriots (6-2). “I’m just so excited about the opportunity and a big game like this.”
The forecast for wintery weather has helped him stay focused this week.
“No, I haven’t had to get any tickets. So I think a lot of that is people like visiting Denver where it’s warmer weather, and they saw the forecast in Foxborough and said, ‘Well, I don’t think I’ll be heading there,'” Welker said.
Welker just doesn’t want to have to return to New England in January.
“Obviously it’s still early but at the same time, they’re all big games, especially when it comes down to home-field advantage,” he said. “They’re really big and you have to make sure that you’re treating these games as playoff-type games.”
Manning vs. Brady XVI features two quarterbacks coming off monster months in which they each threw for 14 touchdowns.
Manning’s 127.4 passer rating in October was second only to Tom Brady’s 129.1 — which came on the heels of the Patriots’ 41-14 wipeout at Kansas City that had many fans saying the Patriots’ dynastic days were history.
Since then, the Patriots have won four straight.
“I’m not surprised at all” at Brady’s bounce-back, Welker said. “I’ve seen it 100 times there where it’s one bad week and everything’s falling apart. So, it’s one week and you can never really judge anything off that and you knew they were going to bounce back from it.”
Welker has a unique perspective of having been on both sides of Manning vs. Brady.
“They’re both the best in the game right now and I’m obviously very fortunate to get to play with both,” Welker said.
Welker isn’t having the same kind of season he enjoyed last year. After five 100-catch seasons in New England, Welker was leading the Broncos with 73 catches for 778 yards and a career-high 10 touchdowns in 2013 before missing most of the final month with a concussion. He returned for the playoffs and caught 18 passes for 160 yards and a TD.
This year, he has 19 catches for 181 yards and one touchdown.
He caught just two passes for 5 yards in Denver’s last game, a 35-21 win over San Diego. But Manning called his second one “the catch of the game,” because it came on third-and-4 from Denver’s 10 with 3:29 left.
“Would I want the ball more? Yes. (But) as long as we’re winning games and we’re being productive on offense and doing those things, I’m good with however we get that done,” Welker said. “It’s kind of strange being, I feel like, the weak link of our offense.
“If I’m the weak link, we’re going to be OK. I’m excited about the guys we have and the camaraderie that we have together and really pulling for each other.”
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