FOXBORO, Mass. -- "Pound-for-pound toughest guy" is a phrase we reserve many times for the boxing ring. It's usually aimed at the smaller fighters.
It applies sometimes to football and its smaller players.
One player it fits perfectly is New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker. If there is a tougher player in the NFL, I want to see him. The highlight shows glamorize the big-hitting linebackers, those mouthy defensive backs and the quarterback-hunting pass rushers.
Rarely do they focus on the little guys when talking about toughness. They miss on that as it relates to Welker. "He's one of the toughest guys I've ever played with," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said.
If he walked into a bar, he'd be the last guy chosen in a tough-guy free-for-all. You'd be mistaken by passing him up.
Welker put his toughness on display again Sunday in New England's 31-14 victory over the New York Jets Sunday. He caught a career-high 15 passes for 192 yards and took plenty of big shots in the process.
Welker has 79 catches in eight games after missing time early this season with a knee injury. The 79 catches lead the NFL.
No wonder they say he's the Master of the Middle of the Field.
"Wes is the best slot receiver in the league," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
Recap: Patriots 31, Jets 14
The last time the Jets and Patriots played, the Jets hit Brady 33 times. They blitzed on almost every play.
Welker wasn't there for that game, out with a knee injury. That's a big difference in their offense. With Welker this time, the Jets didn't blitz as much. With Welker, Brady always seems to have an outlet receiver to get the ball to quickly.
When told of Welker's numbers from this game, Jets safety Kerry Rhodes was surprised.
"Wow," he said. "That is pretty bad, but he is a good player. He does a good job of finding the open spot and Brady puts it right to him."
As Welker walked to the podium to meet the media after the game, it was hard to believe this was the guy who had played so big. Dressed in jeans, black Nike sneakers and a button-down shirt, he sure didn't look like a football player -- at least not an NFL player.
At 5-7 (though he's listed at 5-9), maybe 190 pounds, he looked like some kid you'd see on the show Friday Night Lights, not an NFL game-changer.
Welker has this aw-shucks, Texas-twang to him, while Brady, who followed him on the podium dressed in GQ style, seems polished like the star he has become.
They are opposites for sure, but so much alike in their competitive ways.
|Wes Welker has a field day against the Jets, catching 15 passes for 192 yards. (AP)|
He also said, "I don't look into it really too much. I'm out there doing my job, and trying to do it well and everything else falls to the wayside."
No wonder he's a perfect Patriots player. It's all about team.
It helps Welker that Randy Moss is part of his receiving group. Moss is one of the game's best deep threats. Heading into Sunday's game, the focus was on Moss against Jets corner Darrelle Revis. The two exchanged some words this week about their first meeting. Revis said he played man. Moss said he had help.
Revis played mostly man this time and did a good job, limiting Moss to five catches for 34 yards and one touchdown.
That's where Welker came into play. They used him in the short passing game with the Jets concentrating more on Moss.
"I knew there were probably going to be a lot of balls coming my way," Welker said. "But not that extent."
On one play, Moss ran a short route and three Jets defenders jumped on it. Welker went deep and Brady hit him for a 43-yard completion in the second quarter.
"He mail-boxed his hand [raised his arm], and it was hard to see because he's 5-7," Brady said joking. "That was a big play."
Welker isn't a burner. He isn't big. So what makes him so good?
"His ability to get in and out of his routes," Patriots rookie corner Darius Butler said.
Butler should know. He spends a lot of practice time matched in the slot against Welker. That's a great learning experience for a rookie, dealing with Welker's ability to come in and out of breaks.
"Let's just say I'm glad he's on my team," Butler said.
The New England offensive linemen rave about his toughness. He's like one of them, only a lot smaller. Welker took several big hits against the Jets and popped right up every time.
"He's a tough kid who loves to play football," Pats center Dan Koppen said. "He does it all. You're just so glad to have him on your side."
Welker didn't seem fazed by the hits he took. "I really feel OK right now," he said. "There were a few hits in there and stuff, but for the most part I feel alright."
Spoken like the tough guy he is.
Go ahead and give him his crown. Welker is pound-for-pound the toughest player in the NFL.