In game filled with highlights in all three phases for the Patriots, Wes Welker's44-yard punt return in Monday night's win over the Broncos was one of those in the kicking game that really did make it the ultimate complementary performance.
The third-quarter runback was New England's longest punt return of the season, getting the ball to the Broncos 28 to set up Matt Cassel's27-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss. That extended the home team's lead to 27-0 and sent the Broncos a strong message there would be no comeback in this team-wide butt-kicking.
Kevin Faulk has handled the punt returns for most of the early part of 2008 and done a very good job. He's averaging 15.1 yards per return, with a long of 24 yards as the Patriots rank third in the NFL on punt returns as a team.
But on Welker's big return, one of just three he's handled through six games this season, Faulk was actually one of the blockers making it all come together.
"The fellas, all day on special teams no matter what we were doing the guys did a great job of blocking. Kevin Faulk andLarry Izzo both made some key blocks on that and really kind of sprung it loose," Welker said. "We were able to get some good yards on it."
Even though Welker has seen limited reps in the return game to date, possibly a precautionary measure after injuring his ribs on a preseason punt return, the diminutive playmaker relishes every opportunity he gets in that role.
"I've been doing punt return every year since the sixth grade. So being able to get out there is good," he said with a smile. "You get the ball in your hands in some open space and try and make something happen."
Cassel wins weekly award
Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in the Monday night win over Denver. Cassel completed 18 of 24 passes for 185 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 136.3 passer rating in the blowout of the Broncos. The single-game rating was the 10th best effort in Patriots franchise history and the highest in the NFL in Week 8's games.
Cassel is the fifth Patriots quarterback to win the award, joining the ranks of Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady, Tony Easonand Scott Zolak. Interestingly another quarterback won a player of the week honor, although it was the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, when Doug Flutie took home the award for his dropkick to close out the 2005 season.
Running it up
Even a few days later New England's 257 yards rushing against Denver resonates as an extremely impressive performance. Consider that 32-percent of the Patriots six-game total of 815 yards rushing came in the one effort. Consider that it took place without starter Laurence Maroney (place on IR before the game). Consider it came without LaMont Jordan(missed the game with a calf injury). That Sammy Morris blew up for a career-high 138 yards in the first half only to missed the second with a knee injury. That undrafted free agent and practice squad call-up BenJarvus Green-Ellis carried the load for 65 yards in the second half.
It's all very impressive. And it sets the bar a bit higher moving forward.
"It shows that we are capable of doing that and we just have to be consistent throughout the rest of the year," Faulk said.
A view from practiceWith cold, windy, rainy conditions outside the Patriots held a walk-through inside the Dana-Farber Field House at Gillette Stadium early Wednesday afternoon. The workout took place with players in a variety of dress including sweatpants, sweatshirts and hats, making a strict attendance difficult. Running back Sammy Morris was not seen at the workout during the short media-viewing window in which the team worked kickoff returns.
New England's Wednesday practice participation and injury report included eight players. Morris (knee) did not participate. Eric Alexander (hamstring), Shawn Crable(shin), Jarvis Green(ankle), Jordan (calf), Nick Kaczur (ankle), Lewis Sanders (hamstring) and Matthew Slater(ankle) all had full participation.
Earlier in the day Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichicksaid that Jordan was still day to day but closer to returning to action, as his practice work might indicate.
NotesA couple former Patriots have found new homes. Wide receiver Chad Jackson, who's been out of football since getting cut by New England just after training camp, signed with the Broncos. Fullback Kyle Eckel signed a two-year contract with the Eagles where he'll join, or replace, another former Patriot in the backfield group – Dan Klecko. … Belichick had an interesting comment when asked about the defensive rotation New England has used throughout the front seven for much of the season, queried specifically as to weather such a practice might have long-term benefits in terms the players staying healthy and fresh throughout the year. "I think the most important thing is to put your players in the best position to be productive for the team to win. So whatever that is, that's what I'm in favor of. I think if you have Reggie White, you play him."