In the aftermath of the Patriots loss in Super Bowl XLVI, Wes Welker is the scapegoat critics are pointing their fingers at directly, giving him the evil eye. It’s bad enough the Patriots lost, yes, but to describe Welker as Bill Buckner is more than an insult. It’s ignorance, plain and simple, to compare him to the embattled Red Sox first baseman who blundered years ago on a ground ball.
Need I remind you that Buckner’s mistake tortured the Red Sox on baseball’s grandest stage when Mookie Wilson of the ’86 New York Mets hit a grounder to him at first base and when the ball rolled under Buckner’s glove and between his legs into right field? Need I remind you that the Mets were two outs away in the 10th inning from winning the World Series? Need I remind you that one error forced a Game 7 and the Mets, without a doubt, won the pennant?
It’s nonsense to compare a reliable wideout to the clumsy Buckner, and label him, if you possibly can, as the most disliked athlete in New England since Buckner. I realize New England fans are frustrated, angry, crestfallen and unhappy — reluctant to bemoan or express sympathy for Welker, who is on everyone’s bad list and portrayed as the Villain of Beantown after his costly drop in the fourth quarter. It’s a catch you must make in critical situations, and because he couldn’t bring in the ball, he’s being vilified for it.
It’s common for the media or even the fans in Boston to play the blame game, as we’ve seen often last fall during the Red Sox debacle — former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who took much of the blame and lost his job for the mess that transpired within a divided organization. Much has been made about Welker’s regrettable drop with the Patriots leading late in the fourth quarter, and he has ridiculously become Buckner.
That’s a bit too harsh, though Welker failed catching what could have possibly been a game-changing pass at the 21-yard line with four minutes left. That was enough to make New Englanders angry? Sure.
But in my mind, it takes a total team effort and it is wrong to blame one person, describing him as Buckner — a play that wasn’t even close to Buckner’s gaffe. Buckner’s mistake was much more painful, unfortunate and embarrassing. As for the Patriots, the entire team was an embarrassment and painful to watch in the Super Bowl, losing their second Super Bowl to the damn New York Giants when they had a shot to redeem themselves and vindicate greatness among one of NFL’s finest franchises. If you glance at the replay and stare at the misery repeatedly, you’d see it was humanly impossible to make the catch.
This means it was never, ever really a drop if he never had possession or control of the ball. Had he caught an awful pass from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, then he would have been praised heavily today and embraced for catching the ball to secure an unimaginable catch. The generally sure-handed Welker, in a pivotal moment on the brightest stage, couldn’t corral a throw that was behind him and the ball slipped off his hands for a miss opportunity. In most cases, Welker makes that catch.
And when it was over, he took the blame, handled his failures like a man, with tears in his eyes. In his lifetime, he has produced at an All-Pro level in New England, catching over 100 passes and accumulating more than 1,100 in every season. The lowest came in 2010, catching only 89 balls for 848 yards, but other than that, he has been a definite target for Brady.
It wasn’t so much that he was disliked, well, maybe for the time being, but it was that someone had to be blamed and unfortunately it happens to be Welker. As for Buckner, he was a solid hitter, just as Welker is a trusty receiver.
Way back in his career, Buckner hit .300 or better seven times and finished with 2,715 hits in 22 seasons. Long before this boo-boo, we had nothing but good things to say about Welker, but now after one mistake, we are ripping him, treating him like a bad guy from hell. The circumstances are not exactly similar, but they are a pair of mistakes in Boston sports history.
If he’s Buckner, why isn’t he wearing a Red Sox uniform, huh? Why is he having a better career than Buckner in his prime? The pass, which Brady tried to deliver perfectly to Welker, was badly thrown. Here we are blaming a receiver who has the ball thrown to him, and comparing him to a first baseman who couldn’t field a ball that was grounded to him. You see where I’m coming from? Hopefully, this put things into perspective. It’s absurd to call him Buckner when his name is Welker.
It was too high and wide, but he twisted his body and made an effort to reel in the pass in a game that he caught six passes for 70 yards, although it was eclipsed by one drop. This was a tough position to be in — having to adjust to the ball after Brady put a little air on the pass. There is nothing easy about catching a ball, while sprinting and turning around in mid-air to attempt a circus catch that would have likely been more spectacular than Giants receiver Mario Manningham’s dazzling grab.
Keep in mind, he’s not effective in vertical routes, and hell, he’s not even an acrobatic wideout. He is, by definition, an explosive receiver, one of the best in the league, and unfortunately, he didn’t catch a back-shoulder throw.
And now, it’s much more difficult to define him as the goat. Buckner, yes. Welker, no. This is nothing new. Fans and the media in Boston have picked on players for years, but out of all players to blame, Welker is not one of them.
All this publicity for comparisons — in all honesty — is silliness and mistreatment of a player who has been an asset in the Patriots offense, a receiver folks have grown to cherish but now have turned on him, angry at Welker after dropping the ball in the closing minutes.
Don’t blame him. Blame the pass. It was terribly a bad throw, one of Brady’s worst passes in the Super Bowl. And Welker, unfortunately, is jeered and booed, getting the Bill Buckner treatment for not catching a fourth-quarter pass from Brady that could have won the game for New England.
Buckner made his own mistake. That was all on him. Brady made a costly mistake that was intended for his receiver, who is now taking the blame for someone else’s miscue.
It amazes me that there’s another Buckner in New England.
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