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Take Two-sday: Count on Welker!

Posted Jan 15, 2013

Houston overlooked a major opportunity for a big play in the kicking game that could have swayed the first-half momentum if not for Wes Welker's heady observations.

There is little doubt at this point in the season how valuable Wes Welker is to the Patriots. He led the team with another 118 catches. He opened the postseason with a team-high eight catches for 131 yards in the victory over the Texans.

With Julian Edelman on injured reserve, No. 83 has also once again returned to his role as New England’s primary punt returner.

And all that early-season talk of a diminishing role for the diminutive slot machine is a distant memory.

But Welker’s greatest contribution – beyond his big plays and key catches – in Sunday’s divisional round win over Houston may have been his ability to channel his inner Count from Sesame Street.

Welker took the field to return a punt in his own end midway through the second quarter. Houston’s latest drive had stalled at the Patriots 43 and the Texans lined up to punt with just less than seven minutes to play in the second quarter, trailing 10-3.

One of the jobs of all returners, with their view of the entire field, is to count their teammates and make sure that the return team has a full 11 players. As Welker would soon see, he did not have full field of blockers.

In changing personnel after Steve Gregory’s third-down stop, only 10 Patriots were on the field for the punt. Houston’s left gunner – cornerback Alan Ball lined up right in front of the team’s bench – was completely uncovered. In fact, Marquice Cole actually ran on the field late on the other sideline to cover the Texans right gunner.

Seeing this Welker began yelling and either he or the New England sideline called a timeout just before the ball was snapped to punter Donnie Jones.

Now, CBS cameras showed that Jones seemed unaware of his uncovered gunner. Even with the timeout, Jones took the snap and was prepared to boot the ball, giving no indication that he might run a fake to his wide-open teammate.

Apparently no one on the Houston team, or sideline, noticed the opportunity for a big play on a fake punt. Or maybe the Texans, who showed signs of poor coaching and lack of preparation throughout both their trips to Gillette Stadium this season, don’t have a audible call in place to take advantage of such a snafu by a punt return unit.

Regardless, the Patriots called timeout and got 11 guys on the field after the break, with Cole now lining up in front of Ball and Aqib Talib coming on to block Houston’s right gunner. Jones punted the ball in to the end zone, giving New England possession at its 23 after the punt. A seven-play drive later Shane Vereen was in the end zone with an 8-yard touchdown reception that gave the Patriots the 17-3 lead.

But what if Jones, his coaches or anyone with a Houston logo had noticed the New England mistake in terms of personnel? What if the punter had quickly snapped the ball and hit the speedy Ball down the left sideline for what would certainly have been a big play and, if he could have eluded Welker, might have been a touchdown? What if the Texans tied the score at 10 midway through the second period, would that have led to a more competitive game or a different outcome?

Thankfully, Patriots fans and players will never know the answer to any of those questions. Houston was asleep at the wheel and the heady Welker, as we might expect, was not.

Welker did what Bill Belichick asks all his players to do – their job. A less than glamorous part of Welker’s job on the snap in question was to act like a kindergartner and count to 11. He did that, the Patriots called timeout and averted potential disaster, even with the Texans seemingly unaware of their lost opportunity.

For that, and all the many other reasons that make him a great player, we salute Wes Welker. And we shine the light on one of the many little things that he and other Patriots players do each and every week to ensure victory. After all, that’s what Take Two-sday is all about!

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