By Tony Lee | Special to ESPNBoston.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Patriots coach Bill Belichick called Wes Welker‘s collision Sunday with New England cornerback Aqib Talib “one of the worst plays I’ve seen,” a sharp critique of the actions of one of his former stars.
Belichick delivered the comments roughly one minute into his news conference at Gillette Stadium on Monday morning, less than 24 hours after the Patriots fell to the Denver Broncos 26-16 in the AFC Championship Game.
Belichick’s criticism was unprovoked, part of the coach’s opening remarks, and stands as stinging commentary from a man who usually limits what he provides in a public forum.
“It was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib. No attempt to get open,” Belichick said. “I’ll let the league handle the discipline on that play, whatever they decide. It’s one of the worst plays I’ve seen. That’s all I’ll say about that.”
The play that will now be talked about for years to come occurred in the second quarter Sunday. With the Broncos in the early portions of a drive that would put them up 10-0, Welker streaked through the middle of the field and smacked into a crossing Talib, who left with a knee injury and did not return.
Welker was not penalized on the play.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had a field day without New England’s best cornerback in the mix, throwing for 400 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Manning passed for 289 yards after Talib left and at one point completed 14 consecutive attempts.
Belichick acknowledged after the game that the Talib injury had a major impact on the game.
Welker, who shined for the Patriots from 2007 to 2012, said he had no intent to take out his former teammate.
“It was one of those plays where it’s kind of a rough play and I was trying to get him to go over the top, and I think he was thinking the same thing and wanted to come underneath and we just kind of collided,” Welker said Sunday. “It wasn’t a deal where I was trying to hit him or anything like that.
“I hope he’s OK. He’s a great player and a big part of their defense.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said during an interview Monday with Boston radio station WEEI that Welker “is a great player and a great friend” but acknowledged that he had not yet watched the play and could not comment on it.
It marked the second straight year that Talib was injured in the AFC Championship Game.
“I was asked about the hit on Talib, and I feel badly for Aqib,” Belichick said Monday. “The way that play turned out — I went back and watched it, which I didn’t have a chance to yesterday.”
Belichick was asked later during the news conference if “pick plays,” such as the one he accused Welker of, are common and if Denver runs them more than other teams.
“I’d say most all teams in the league do it. They do what they need to do,” Belichick said before seizing the opportunity to praise Manning. “That’s one of the things that Manning does a great job with on that offense. Depending on how you’re playing him, he’s going to attack you based on what you’re doing.
“If you do certain things, he’s going to do certain things. If you do other things, he’s going to do other things. He’s going to run the plays that are good plays against what you’re doing. Runs, passes, schemes — whatever they are, that’s what makes him a great, great, great quarterback. … Situationally, red area, third down, he sees a new look that he thinks he can take advantage of. There’s nobody better than he is.”
Talib went to the locker room multiple times Sunday and warmed up on the sideline but was unable to return to the contest.
“If I could be out there, I would’ve been out there, man,” Talib said after the game.
“It was very tough,” cornerback Alfonzo Dennard said about the loss of Talib. “After he went out, they attacked. It was very hard.”
Although Welker starred under Belichick for six years, he chose to move on last offseason after becoming a free agent.
While with the Patriots, Welker was benched to start a game for comments about New York Jets coach Rex Ryan. In 2012, Welker took a sarcastic jab at Belichick when his production skyrocketed following a slow start to the season, saying, “It’s kind of nice to stick it in Bill’s face once in a while.”
After choosing to sign with the Broncos, Welker said in a Sports Illustrated report that he had to “endure” Belichick during his time in New England.
Welker finished with four catches for 38 yards in Sunday’s victory, which vaulted the Broncos into a Super Bowl matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.
ESPNBoston.com’s Mike Reiss and Field Yates contributed to this report.