FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Wes Welker won’t be boosting his numbers as the NFL’s leading receiver this weekend. He doesn’t expect to wear himself out celebrating his success either.
The energetic Welker is heading home to Oklahoma City during the New England Patriots bye week — not Cancun, Panama City or Jamaica where student vacationers flock.
“It’s not like spring break like we were in college,” Welker said with a smile Wednesday before taking five days off from the constant grind of meetings, film study and practices.
He still plans to work out while he’s gone. But it’s also a time to rest and catch up on sleep. He might not even be glued to his television set for Sunday’s games.
“I’ll watch them and kind of just relax,” he said, “but if I have something I have to do it’s not like I’m TiVo-ing it or anything like that. If it’s on, then I’ll watch it. If not, then I don’t.”
For a change, viewers won’t have any new Welker highlights to see. There have been plenty this year — pass plays covering 99 and 73 yards, acrobatic catches, six touchdowns — as he has surged to the top of the league lists with 51 catches for 785 yards.
That’s helped the Patriots build the AFC’s best record, 5-1. Their offense has been rolling all season with the most overall yards and yards passing in the league. But the defense has allowed the most yards in both those categories.
“It’s nice to be in the position we’re in,” Welker said, but “we’re still a long ways off of where we need to be.”
The bye gives them a chance to reflect on that and think how they can improve. And not all teams handle the break the same.
Safety James Ihedigbo joined the Patriots in August as a free agent after three years with the New York Jets. Coach Bill Belichick made it clear to him and other veteran newcomers how he likes things done, including how to approach the bye.
“He said a lot of stuff about ‘guys, things that you’ve done in the past at other places may have worked, but here, as being a part of the Patriots, buy into the way we do things,’ ” Ihedigbo said, “and that’s what the guys who have come here from other teams have done.”
During a meeting lasting about 40 minutes Wednesday morning, Belichick also had a message for rookies going into their first NFL bye.
“We told them quite a few things,” he said. “What they did in college and what happens in college relative to an NFL season is just different. It’s the kind of thing you can’t really prepare for. You just have to go through it and experience it.”
Freed from the structured schedule in Foxborough, rookies also must be careful to avoid trouble when they return home.
“I think that’s a message for any professional athlete pretty much any day,” Belichick said. “From the day they become a professional athlete, things change. They carry that with them wherever they go, whether it’s the bye week or any other week.”
One rookie, Nate Solder, has started five games at right tackle after being drafted in the first round out of Colorado. His plan for the bye?
“Just get ready to finish off the season strong,” he said.
The Patriots return to face the Pittsburgh Steelers, who lead the NFL in overall defense and pass defense. Their next home game is a week later against the New York Giants, taking them to the midpoint of the season.
For now, Belichick wants his players to “get some rest, get treatment, get some bumps and bruises taken care of and come back with a full tank of energy.”
Even the hard-driving Belichick may slow down a bit.
“Get the Halloween decorations up,” he said with a grin. “Candy and costumes. How can you beat that?”
With so much football left to play, any break is welcome, especially one lasting five days.
“It’s kind of unheard of around here so it’s really kind of nice to get away and kind of relax a little bit,” Welker said. “You put it out of your mind for a few days. It’s just so much every single day, football, football, football, so it’s nice to get a few days where you just relax and spend time with family and friends.”
But getting away from football may not be easy, at least mentally. Players can’t just flick a switch and forget about the game that occupies so much of their time.
“It’s very hard,” safety Patrick Chung said. “It is a time for you to just … think about relaxing, not worrying about all the other outside things, just easing your mind sometimes. You need to get your sanity back and then come back and get crazy again.”