The Patriots looked good both offensively and defensively in their 34-13 victory over Tennessee on Sunday. They looked more complete than they did in 2011. But there was also something missing: Wes Welker.
Welker only caught three passes for 14 yards and, perhaps more concerning, only played on 43 of the 67 offensive plays, Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston notes.
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Julian Edelman was on the field for 23 plays for New England. In other words, many of the snaps that Welker was missing weren't based on a formation change; Edelman is basically Welker-lite in terms of what the Patriots want to do on offense.
The amount of time Welker spent on the field Sunday (64.2 percent) is down drastically from the 89.2 percent of total offensive snaps (per Reiss) that Welker saw in 2011.
It's entirely possible that this is a sign of the Patriots preparing to move on without Welker by slowing phasing in his replacement. Welker signed his franchise tag in the offseason and it's not believed the Pats will a) pay him what he wants after 2012 or b) deal with the prohibitive guaranteed dollars a second franchise tag would cost.
Worth noting when considering that is the number of snaps that Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez played. That would be, um, all of them. Brandon Lloyd, who's already a huge improvement over New England's last free-agent acquisition, also caught five balls for 69 yards, while playing on 57 of the 67 snaps.
It's also completely possible that it is just a one-week thing, and Welker could bounce back against the Cardinals in Week 2 when the Patriots return home. It's only one week and it's not time to panic about Welker's time spent on the field or lack of production ... yet.
But if this is something that develops as a trend, it could become pretty obvious as to what direction the Patriots are going.
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