Tom Brady and Wes Welker have been the most prolific passing combination in the NFL since 2007. That Welker didn't start yesterday's 20-18 loss to the Cardinals came as a surprise to most, especially since there haven't been very many signs of Welker's ability beginning to fade.
There are several reasons why the Patriots may have chosen to go with Julian Edelman over Welker. But on his weekly interview with WEEI Monday morning, Brady said that one of the reasons Welker played fewer snaps than Edelman -- 63 to 75, according to ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss -- is that the Patriots may be trying to keep Welker fresher later in the season.
"It was just a personnel grouping where Welker's not in the game," Brady said when asked about New England's first few offensive plays Sunday. "We have a lot of different personnel groupings with him in the game. There's a lot of guys on the roster, and we're trying to utilize every player so that at the end of the year one guy doesn't have 700 plays and another guy has 50 plays. Hopefully everyone can contribute and have opportunity and be fresh and stay healthy. Because we need everybody. It's a long year."
Brady also praised Welker's work ethic, perhaps in order to quell rumors that Welker must have broken a team rule or done something wrong in coach Bill Belichick's eyes to earn his benching.
"I love Wes. He's like one of my best friends. What he does on a daily basis to prepare himself really motivates everybody else," Brady said. "He's a leader. He's so tough. I've been in so many critical, critical situations with him where he's worked so hard to do the right thing and be in the right place and make the play. He's a phenomenal player."
Aside from the fact that Edelman started over Welker, the other big development to come out of yesterday's game was the loss of Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who left with an ankle injury.
Brady admitted that Hernandez plays a big role in the offense, but the quarterback still felt as though his tight end's departure from the game was not the reason why the offense scuffled and scored only one touchdown against the Cardinals.
"I didn't really feel that way," Brady said. "He's a big part of what we do and he's out there on the field quite a bit. I thought we just pretty much moved on, though, tried to adjust with some different personnel groupings and formations and such. But I don't think we were really shell-shocked that he wasn't in there. I thought we tried to react -- and we didn't have a great first half, by any stretch."
That was thanks in part to the defensive effort put forth by the Cardinals. Though they entered Foxboro as largely unheralded 14-point underdogs, Brady said he wasn't surprised at the stinginess of the Cardinals 'D.'
"They pretty much did what they did all day and pretty much what they've been doing all preseason, and even going into last year," Brady said. "So, it wasn't a ton that really surprised us. It was just a matter of, really, they have a good team. They have some very, very good players, very disruptive front, good guys in coverage, they disguise things pretty well. But our execution wasn't great, even when we really had them figured out. That's why you get beat, is you have chances to make plays and you just don't make them."