By Kevin Saleeba
In the six years as a member of the New England Patriots, Wes Welker simply became the franchise's all-time leading receiver.
During that span, Welker made some big plays; set some records and made some big mistakes. Whatever the outcome, number 83 had six memorable seasons.
Welker tied Dan Ross, Jerry Rice, and former Patriots receiver Deion Branch with a Super Bowl record 11 receptions for 103 yards in Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3, 2008.
During his first season in New England, Welker set an NFL record in 2007. He had the most receptions by a player in his first season with a new team (rookie or veteran) with 112 receptions.
In a season where All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady missed virtually the entire 2008 season, Welker still was able to grab at least six receptions in the first eleven games of that season. This feat set an NFL record, previously held by Jacksonville's Jimmy Smith with eight in 2001. Welker finished second in the league behind Andre Johnson with 111 receptions with Matt Cassel throwing him the ball.
Prior to the playoff loss to the New York Jets in 2011, Welker was benched for the teams' first offensive series after he made foot references in a press conference during the week leading up to the game. Welker humorously took shots at Jets head coach Rex Ryan's highly publicized foot fetish.
In the 2012 Patriots home opener against the Arizona Cardinals, Welker caught five passes for 95 yards, averaging 19 yards a reception. The performance vaulted Welker pass Troy Brown to become the all-time franchise leader in receptions.
Welker had two touchdowns on eight catches with 90 yards in a 45-24 massacre of the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day in 2010.
The Patriots were driving and apparently in control of the AFC Championship game against Baltimore. New England had the ball on the Ravens 34-yard-line on a third-and-eight and a 13-7 lead.
Brady spotted Welker making his break along the left sideline and gunned it to the Patriots all-time leading receiver, but Welker let the ball slip right through his fingers, hitting his face mask for an incomplete pass. If Welker had made the catch, it would have been first down near the 25-yard-line and possibly a scoring drive for New England. The play did not go down as a turnover on the stat sheet, but it was as good as one.
The momentum shifted to the Ravens and they never looked back as the entire game changed from that moment. Baltimore went on to score 21 unanswered points for the victory and Super Bowl berth.
Welker had 16 receptions for 217 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 3 2011 game against the Buffalo Bills. The performance tied Troy Brown's Patriots record of 16 receptions in a single game and broke Terry Glenn's franchise record of 214 yards. The game also marked Welker's 64th consecutive regular-season game with a reception, breaking tight end Ben Coates' record of 63 games.
During the 2011 Season opener on Monday Night football against Miami, Welker caught a 99-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady, which included a devastating stiff-arm on cornerback Jimmy Wilson around the 40-yard-line. The stiff-arm sent Wilson plummeting to the ground as Welker sprinted another 60 yards to the end zone. Welker finished the game with 160 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
The Patriots had the ball on the Giants 44-yard-line clinging to a 17-15 lead late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVI. The clock was ticking down to the three minute mark and New York had no time outs left.
The Giants secondary was scrambling over their coverage assignments and as Tom Brady dropped back to pass, he saw an uncovered Wes Welker slip through the Giants secondary. Brady lofted a pass in Welker's direction and all he had to do was catch the ball. A reception meant the Patriots could milk the clock to another championship. In a season where he had 122 catches to lead the league in reception and with the outcome of Super Bowl XLVI on the line, Welker could not come up with the big play. It was a Bill Buckner in shoulder pads moment.
"It's right there and it hits me right in the hands," Welker said after the game. "It's one I will have to live with."
Unfortunately Patriots fans have to live it as well. Despite all the good plays Welker had in a Patriots uniform, the Super Bowl drop will be his Patriots legacy as he heads off to Denver.
Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist to Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinSaleeba.