It was a classic Wes Welker catch: The wide receiver lined up in the slot, faked as if to run a route of the middle and cut back into the flat, catching a pass and planting his left leg in the ground to sprint past the first-down marker.
When he planted that left leg, though, his knee buckled -- and even if it's not a torn ligament, it's something that's going to sideline him for the indefinite future.
(If it is a torn ligament or two, the worst part for Welker is that he might not even be ready to go at the start of next season. Ligament surgery usually is more of a 12-month recovery than a six-month recovery -- and next season starts in eight months.)
Welker finished his season with a team-record 123 receptions. The catch on which he was injured tied him with Detroit's Herman Moore for second on the single-season receptions list. Not even Jerry Rice ever had more than 122 receptions in a season. Only Marvin Harrison's 143 receptions in 2002 is ahead of what Welker did this season -- and Welker even missed two games earlier this season with a knee injury.
Let's get this straight right now: There was no way he was going to sit out this game. There was no reason for the Patriots to sit him in this game. Injuries happen in football -- and this is the type of injury that could have happened just as easily a week from now as today.
It's just the worst luck for a player who ought to get some consideration for the NFL's Most Valuable Player honors.
It is, as always, dangerous to jump the gun when it comes to diagnosing the injury. The Patriots, though, aren't going to disclose the extent of the injury to Welker even if it's a season-ending tear of his anterior cruciate ligament -- a tear that would put the start of next season in jeopardy for a wide receiver whose elusiveness has a lot to do with his living.
Check out this study published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine three years ago, a study written by a doctor affiliated with Vanderbilt Sports Medicine.
Among the notes:
* Researchers collected data on ligament injuries suffered by running backs and wide receivers from 1998-2002. Of those 31 players, 21 percent did not appear again in a regular-season NFL game. Of the 79 percent that did return, "most players returned to action 9 to 12 months after an ACL injury."
* "For those players who returned to NFL action following an ACL injury, performance fell by one-third, the researchers found. Power rating per game played decreased from 9.9 pre-injury to 6.5 post-injury. This decline in player production was statistically significant when compared to the 146 players in the control group."
* Welker was the type of player most susceptible to this type of injury: "'High-performance RBs and WRs are more likely to be injured because they compete in more plays per game, carry the ball longer on each play, and attract more defensive attention,' the authors say. 'The same qualities of RBs and WRs that contribute to high performance -- instantaneous decelerations as well as explosive pivoting and cutting maneuvers -- may increase the risk for ACL injury.'"
A look at Julian Edelman, the natural replacement for Welker as the Patriots' slot receiver, from today's Union Leader story:
With all the abuse Wes Welker takes every week, it's likely he'll spend some quality time watching from the sidelines today to give his omnipresent bruises a chance to heal. Should Welker take some time off, Julian Edelman might get a chance to play his way back into the Patriots' offense.
Edelman caught eight passes against the Jets in Week 2 and six passes against the Titans in Week 6 before breaking his arm. He's caught just six passes since -- but one of those was a picture-perfect 28-yard catch in the seam against Jacksonville on Sunday.
The Patriots' offense is at its most dangerous with both Edelman and Welker finding creases in the defense. If Edelman -- who was not limited at all at practice this week -- can get going, he'll give Brady an extra weapon come playoff time.
Edelman already has two catches in this game -- including a 25-yard catch-and-run that looked just like Welker's catch-and-runs usually do.