I was torn between Wes Welker and Justin Francis for the New England Patriots Week 17 game ball, but I decided to go with Welker in the end and demote Francis to “runner-up” status. It feels wrong doing that, but I’m a sucker for players who shove it to their former team. There was also the fact that it is too difficult to single out one player as the primary force in delivering a shutout, because guys like Brandon Spikes, Kyle Arrington, Chandler Jones, Steve Gregory, Vince Wilfork, and Jerod Mayo all made important plays to help force the Miami Dolphins to a goose egg.
Let me quickly give some thoughts on Francis first. He sacked the quarterback three times and stepped up big-time when Rob Ninkovich went down with an injury. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an undrafted rookie put up three sacks in a game, but I also have an awful memory (that’s a cue for someone in the comments section to say something either insightful or snarky).
Anyway, Francis added two points to the team per EPA, was fourth on the defense with three “successful” plays (the sacks), and he made his impact known as a pass rusher.
Wes Welker, who gets my pick, was the best player on offense in this game, and that’s saying something giving the way Tom Brady played when he finally received some great blocking again. And yes, both Brady and the offensive line get honorable mentions for this game, as the line held the Dolphins to just one sack in this game. That came on a corner blitz. The other hit on Brady was an ILB blitz from Kevin Burnett, so you can’t knock them for that.
With the added time and Welker performing at an elite level again, Brady averaged nearly eight yards per attempt and cleared triple digits in QB Rating. Welker finished the game with eight receptions for 94 yards on 12 targets, which means he caught two-thirds of everything thrown at him and averaged 7.8 yards per target.
It seems like Welker always seems to shove it in the Dolphins face every time these two teams play, because he was also the team’s star on offense last time out. Except, that was a much more ugly performance for the offense, the line, and, for his lofty standards, Tom Brady.
Welker did fumble the ball, but he recovered it so it’s all good. Plus, his 11-yard run more than makes up for it, as well as his solid punt returning. He consistently delivered on returns for the Patriots with 30 yards on four returns for an average of 7.5 yards per punt return. Welker helped the team out in various ways, and he continues to be the biggest thorn in the Dolphins side. He was also the team’s primary receiving target with Brandon Lloyd limited and Rob Gronkowski getting eased back into things.
Just want to finish the piece by throwing out some numbers on Chandler Jones. He batted down two passes at the line of scrimmage, put up seven tackles (which is ridiculous for a defensive end), and he also had a tackle for loss. Even though he never hit the quarterback, I think he was at least as good as Francis due to his work in run defense and at the LOS tipping passes. He led all defensive players with eight successful plays (doubled the second best total on either team) and added 4.5 Expected Points Added. It was certainly a big showing for both rookie ends, but both dominated in different ways.
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