Patriots great Wes Welker faces former team Sunday as Dolphins WRs coach

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Welker’s career: Wes Welker loved being part of late-season, high-stakes games at Gillette Stadium during his time as a receiver with the Patriots from 2007 to 2012. Now he gets to experience one as a coach.

“These are always the fun games,” the first-year Miami Dolphins wide receivers coach said of Sunday’s road contest against the Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

“It doesn’t get much more big-time than this. This is what you prepare for through the offseason, the goal you’re working towards, to win enough games to make the tournament. It will be fun coming back to New England and see what we can do. We know they’ll be prepared and ready to go, and what type of team they are in these situations.”

Few know better than Welker, the perennial Patriots' Hall of Fame candidate who holds the franchise record for receptions (672).

The Patriots need to win to keep their playoff hopes alive (winning their final two games will clinch a berth). Meanwhile, the Dolphins can clinch a playoff spot with a win and New York Jets loss at the Seattle Seahawks.

For the 41-year-old Welker, the only thing better than what he’s doing now would be playing in Sunday’s game.

“All those things you miss as a player; it’s the next best thing of getting that feeling of competing, preparing, the challenges, going out there and executing, getting better every week, and doing it at the highest level possible,” he told ESPN.com.

“I’m six years in and I enjoy coming to work, being around football, being around the guys, just trying to bring out the best version of themselves. It’s all things that get my blood flowing.”

Welker began his career as an offensive assistant/quality control coach with the Houston Texans (2017-2018) under then-head coach Bill O’Brien. He then was hired by Kyle Shanahan as San Francisco 49ers wide receivers coach in 2019, staying there for three seasons, while his wife, Anna, and kids Caroline, Carter and Coleman remained in Houston due to school considerations.

This past offseason when 49ers assistant Mike McDaniel was hired as Miami’s head coach, Welker followed him there. His reward: The family back together again under one roof, and the Dolphins later trading for Tyreek Hill to add to a potent receivers room including Jaylen Waddle, Trent Sherfield, Cedrick Wilson Jr and River Cracraft.

Just like his playing days, Welker isn’t one to look too far ahead in terms of where his coaching career might lead. But the competitor in him won’t put a ceiling on it.

“I love being a receivers coach and whenever I’m looking at film, it’s hard for me to not be watching receivers. But the more I’m around the game, the more I hear about O-line talk, blocking schemes, protection, quarterback play, all those different things,” he said.

“That’s been the cool thing being in this offense -- the quarterback and receiver are so in tune with each other on timing and everything else, you kind of get an idea of what the quarterback is thinking through the whole process. It’s been fun to dive into that part of it.”

Welker’s remarks are topical to highlight in New England, where coach Bill Belichick’s unconventional decisions with the Patriots’ offense -- which includes how he constructed the staff -- haven’t produced the desired results.

They also serve up a reminder of his candidacy to the Patriots’ Hall of Fame. Welker has been eligible for each of the past two voting cycles but has yet to break through as one of the three finalists.

“Any honor like that would be a huge accomplishment. I loved my time there in New England; the fans, and [owner] Mr. [Robert] Kraft and Bill and everybody else. I really got to grow my career there. It’s always a special place in my heart,” he said.

“But I understand there are so many great players and so many guys that are very deserving, it’s hard to pick just one.”

2. Hurting at CB? The Patriots enter Sunday’s game with a decimated and banged-up depth chart at cornerback, with rookie Marcus Jones (concussion) already ruled out, fellow rookie Jack Jones (knee) placed on IR Saturday, and starters Jonathan Jones (chest) and Jalen Mills (groin) both limited in practice and questionable to play. That’s the top four players, leaving just slot man Myles Bryant and backup Shaun Wade (18 snaps all season) as healthy options. Hence the promotion of recently signed practice squad cornerbacks Tae Hayes (permanent to the 53-man roster) and Quandre Mosely (standard elevation) for the game. Dolphins receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle must be salivating.

3. Meyers’ salutes mom: When Patriots receiver Jakobi Meyers was presented the Ron Hobson Good Guy Award on Wednesday, his mother Tonija was watching on FaceTime. Meyers got a laugh out of that and later saluted his mother’s impact on his life by saying, “I’m proud of her. It wasn’t easy raising four boys and she stuck it through. We weren’t from the best financial situation, but we could never tell. She taught us to be resilient, that life is going to try to get you; if it wasn’t hard, everybody would be great.”

4. Judon’s journey: Outside linebacker Matthew Judon’s 15.5 sacks rank second in the NFL behind the 49ers’ Nick Bosa (17.5), giving him two games to eclipse Andre Tippett’s franchise record of 18.5 set in 1984. Last year, Judon had a quiet finish to the season, something he was determined to avoid in 2022. Knocking Tippett off the top perch, while keeping the Patriots’ playoff hopes alive, would be one decisive way to show he’s reversed course. “I’m pretty sure Tipp is tired of sitting on that throne,” he said.

5. Rhamondre's response: Running back Rhamondre Stevenson appreciated the lighter touch from Belichick and running backs coach Vinnie Sunseri last week after he fumbled away the chance for the Patriots to win late in the fourth quarter. “I’m probably my biggest critic,” he said. “I was on myself more than I even thought Coach Bill was going to get on me or [Vinnie]. I know what I did wrong and what I need to tighten up.”

6. Slater’s tackles: NFL statisticians made an official change on a punt play in the Patriots’ 22-18 loss to the Bengals in Week 16, crediting Matthew Slater with a tackle instead of Jabrill Peppers (third quarter, 7:12). The change was notable because it gave Slater his 10th tackle of the season, meaning he now has 11 seasons of 10 tackles or more. That’s easily the most of any player since 2000, with former Patriot Larry Izzo next with nine.

7. Mayo’s future: Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo figures to once again be busy this offseason as a head coach candidate, with the Broncos (with whom he interviewed last offseason), Panthers and Colts already among those who will be hiring a new coach. Last week, Mayo made it clear his primary focus is on finishing the 2022 season strong, while adding, “I think I’m ready to be a head coach in the league.”

8. Welker’s top game: If there is one game that Welker remembers more than any other from his Patriots career, it’s the 27-24 win at Baltimore on Dec. 3, 2007, to keep an undefeated season alive. “Defense couldn’t really stop them. Offense was having trouble. Then we clicked at the right moment and had a bunch of things go our way, and it was ‘How did we win that?’” Welker said of the night Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan took a costly timeout and linebacker Bart Scott threw a penalty flag into the stands. “That whole season was probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing football, with the guys we had.”

9. Dolphins’ difference: The Patriots have scored 30 points as a team once this season -- Oct. 16 at Cleveland -- but could Sunday be No. 2? The Dolphins are 3-5 away from home this season, allowing an NFL-worst 31.5 points per game on the road. Compare that to an average of 16.9 points per game allowed at home (tied for second-best in the NFL).

10. Did You Know: The Dolphins' Hill has averaged 99 receiving yards in five career games against the Patriots. That’s the third-highest total against the Belichick-coached Patriots (minimum five games), behind the Colts’ Marvin Harrison (108.4) and the Broncos’ Rod Smith (99.7).