Brady: Can't replace caliber of Welker

Updated: January 4, 2010, 10:00 PM ET
ESPNBoston.com

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady spoke Monday morning for the first time about receiver Wes Welker's knee injury, saying the team "can't replace him" and would have to "evolve a little bit" on offense without its leading receiver.

Welker suffered a devastating knee injury while making a cut in the first quarter of Sunday's regular-season-ending loss to the Houston Texans. Initial tests showed he tore both the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee, but he is scheduled to undergo more testing Monday, a source close to the situation told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Should the diagnosis hold up, Welker's season would be over and he would face a long recovery period. Meanwhile, the Patriots are beginning preparations for Sunday's home playoff game against Baltimore.

Brady Nobody loves Wes [Welker] more than me. Going through a knee injury last year was a hard thing for me but in ways it was a good thing for me. It taught me a lot and I think for Wes it's going to do the same thing. He's as hard a worker as anyone I've been around and he's everything you ask for.

-- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady

"You can't replace him, there's no doubt about that," Brady said Monday in an interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI. "There's nobody that can substitute in for Wes and think that they're going to be Wes. He is everything you ask for.

"We've got to move on and we've got to go out there and play, and everyone I think in different areas has to pick it up. I have to play better, Julian [Edelman] has to play better, Randy [Moss] has to play better, the offensive line, running backs, tight ends, we all have to do more. I think that's the commitment we have to make to one another."

Welker broke his own franchise record with 123 catches this season and piled up 1,348 yards and four touchdowns despite missing the second and third games of the season and most of Sunday's loss. Brady's completion percentage with Welker in the lineup is more than 11 points higher this season (68) than it is without him (56.3). Still, Brady thinks the Patriots can use Welker's absence as a strategic advantage Sunday in their wild-card game against the Ravens.

"We're going to evolve a little bit as an offense now," Brady said on WEEI. "It was a very Wes Welker-oriented offense. Maybe part of the advantage is Baltimore doesn't really know what they're going to see from us now. We're going to have to shift focus and they're really not sure where that focus is going to go.

"In some ways that's an advantage for us. There's a lot of things we've done with Wes that we don't do with anybody else. We're going to find other areas to exploit and use the talents of Julian and Sam [Aiken] and Randy and Chris Baker and Kevin [Faulk] and Laurence [Maroney] and Fred [Taylor] and Sammy [Morris], and all those other really great players we have on offense to be able to move the ball."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday that he was only beginning to formulate an offensive plan for Sunday's playoff game against the Ravens.

"We haven't made a game plan yet for the Ravens," said Belichick. "We're just kind of getting started on them after coming back last night and watching the film here. What we decide to do this week, offensively, we haven't even determined that yet. That will be some part of the discussions we have in the next couple days, about how we can best deal with Baltimore's defensive system and players and what we can do, on our side of it, to attack them in the most efficient way. We really haven't done any of that yet."

The player likely to be called upon most to step up in Welker's absence will be Edelman, who had 10 catches and 103 yards receiving Sunday in Welker's absence.

"He has a different skill set than Wes," Brady said of Edelman. "There are things that you do differently with Julian and things that you do differently with Wes. ... You're not going to be able to make him into Wes Welker. You're just going to have to allow him to do the things that he does well."

Belichick was also asked about Edelman, a rookie who played quarterback at Kent State but was moved to the receiver position after being drafted by the Patriots.

"Julian's made a lot of progress from where he's started from the beginning of the year, back in the spring after we drafted him," said Belichick. "A year ago at this time, he'd never played receiver. He was a college quarterback and he's come in and made a good adjustment at that position. He's worked hard at the return game and he's really picked up a lot offensively at the receiver position, considering where he started from."

On a personal level, it was clear Brady felt for Welker, who was seen in tears on the sideline after the injury and was carted off the field with a towel covering his head. Having suffered a similar injury to Welker's in the first game of the 2008 season, Brady knows the challenges his teammate is facing.

"Nobody loves Wes more than me," Brady said. "Going through a knee injury last year was a hard thing for me but in ways it was a good thing for me. It taught me a lot and I think for Wes it's going to do the same thing. He's as hard a worker as anyone I've been around and he's everything you ask for."

Without confirming the extent of the injury, Belichick also threw his support behind Welker.

"I felt badly for him," Belichick said. "He had a great year. It's unfortunate to see any player have an injury. Wes is a great competitor and I'm sure that he'll do whatever it is -- he'll work hard as he always does to bounce back."

It's unclear how much time Welker will miss, but others with similar knee injuries have needed six to 12 months to recover. While acknowledging that Welker's recovery will be different than his because of the position he plays, Brady said he was confident Welker would return to the Patriots the same caliber of player he is now.

"Everyone goes through it a little bit differently, everyone's got different knees," Brady said. "Him being a receiver is a little bit different than it was for me. I can afford to wear the knee brace the whole time in the game and I'm sure he's not going to want to do that. ...

"For Wes it's just about going through the process. He's as hard a worker as anyone on our team, anyone I've ever seen. He's going to work just as hard through this as he would through the regular offseason program. He'll be back at some point better than ever. I know that."

Brady also touched on reports that he has been playing recently with broken ribs and a broken finger on his throwing hand.

"What's the injury report say?" Brady joked when asked if he could confirm the validity of the reports.

"I'm feeling really good. Everyone breaks bones over the course of the year. I'm feeling pretty good. It's the best I've felt in a while."

ESPNBoston.com's Chris Forsberg contributed to this report.

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