Quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots know a few things about wide receiver Wes Welker, who spent the previous six seasons as the No. 1 receiver in Brady’s arsenal.
Welker, who left for the Denver Broncos when New England made what he considered a low-ball offer in free agency, is on pace for another 90-plus receptions, now as quarterback Peyton Manning’s security blanket in the three-receiver formations the Broncos utilize.
But Welker left Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs and was evaluated for neck and head injuries, casting doubt over his availability for a Sunday night football return to Foxborough, Mass.
Brady is no doctor, but he does know Welker.
“I’ve been around (Welker) long enough to know what he’s all about,” Brady told WEEI in Boston on Wednesday. “He loves playing football, and if there’s a chance for him to play, especially coming back here, he’s definitely going to be out there. I’ve got no question about that.”
Brady and Welker were good friends and offseason workout partners. Brady gives Welker much of the credit for Brady’s accelerated rehab and recovery from a torn ACL.
Denver Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio said Welker was going through the NFL concussion protocol. Brady understands the process, but said Welker will find a way to play.
“It would take an awful lot for him to miss the game,” said Brady.
New England moved quickly — later, we learned simultaneously — to fill Welker’s spot on the roster by handing Danny Amendola a five-year, $30 million contract. While their skills are similar, the greatest edge in Welker’s favor could be durability.
Amendola has missed 20 games in the past three seasons, including four in 2013 with groin and head injuries.
Welker, 32, has missed four games in 10 seasons.
Coach Bill Belichick took a well-worn path out of the line of questioning when the topic of Welker came up Wednesday morning.
“Right now, we’re really just focused on preparing for Denver. What happened last year, five years ago, I don’t think it has too much impact on anything right now; just trying to get ready for Denver,” Belichick said. “He’s done a good job for them, he’s a good player.”
Welker and fellow wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker present nightmare matchup issues outside. Welker and tight end Julius Thomas are more formidable underneath, heavily taxing linebackers and safeties trying to account for Manning’s many outlets.
But with Sunday’s forecast in the low 20s, including wind gusts approaching 30 mph — the two quarterbacks could become a backstory with more running than expected.
“Backs are a key part of the offense period,” Belichick said. “They’re important in the running game, they’re important in the passing game. They use them on screens, routes out of the backfield, flat routes, wheel routes.”
Talib struggles vs. Smith
Cornerback Aqib Talib matched up with wide receiver Steve Smith on Monday night in Carolina, renewing a rivalry that dated back to his days in the NFC South with Tampa Bay. In his first game back after missing three games with a hip injury Talib struggled a bit.
The two also got into some jawing and shoving, leading to a personal foul penalty on Talib. Smith caught four passes for 62 yards, including a 42 yarder to set up Carolina’s first-quarter touchdown. Talib left the game in the fourth quarter and downplayed the bickering and fighting.
“Just two competitive guys going at it,” Talib said.
Smith had a different, more pointed response when asked went on in the game after his team’s victory.
“I don’t know, you go ask him, ’cause he didn’t finish the game,” Smith told NFL Network of Talib. “Ice up, son, ice up.”
Vereen strong in return
Running back Shane Vereen (wrist) returned from injured reserve to play his second game of the season against the Panthers. The New England passing back got right into the action, leading the Patriots with a career-high eight catches for 65 yards, although he did have a key drop on team’s final drive and unsuccessful comeback attempt.
“It was good to have him back,” coach Bill Belichick said of Vereen’s return. “He missed two months of football. I think he’ll be better as we go along. He’s worked hard, definitely made some plays that helped us in the game. I think he’ll improve and get better, like any player will with more reps and more opportunities to practice and play.
“It’s definitely good to have him back out there. There are plenty of things for him to work on but he’s a diligent, hard working kid that always gives you a solid effort. I’m sure he’ll continue to do that.”