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His progress was swift and steady. By the 2010 preseason Belichick already was getting questions about when Welker would start again. In fact, he has started every game this season, in the face of questions not only about his knee but also about whether he would be able to create the kinds of spaces he had in the past. Four weeks into the season the Patriots hustled Moss out of town, thereby making Welker the center of attention for opposing defenses.
"Seriously, I've felt great this whole season," Welker says. "Every week that goes by I get more confident. Not just in my knee but in general—in going out there and playing and not worrying about anything." He laughs when he's asked which hurt more—having his knee explode last season or getting lit up by Clark two years ago.
"Oh, the knee, no question," he says. "That hit I took in Pittsburgh? I felt like I could go right back in the game and play. With the knee, I had to spend the whole off-season just getting ready for this season, and now, staying on top of it, just getting ready for each game."
His eyes widen as he says this, and it's plain that what Wes Welker sees when he looks out across the line of scrimmage is only half the story. The other half is what you see when you look at him as he talks, like any artist, about his art. All that stuff about the eyes being the windows to the soul is not rot. What you see behind Welker's looks very much like a flame.
In a great kettle of light tucked into the New England hills on a late autumn night, Patriots running back Danny Woodhead breaks loose against the Colts. Deion Branch, a wide receiver, paces him. So does Wes Welker. Nobody in the convoy, including Woodhead, is 6 feet tall. Nobody weighs 200 pounds. They all head for Colts defensive back Kelvin Hayden. First Branch shoves Hayden off to one side, and then Welker, running fearlessly and vibrating with joy, hits Hayden straight on and drives him back into the end zone. Woodhead scores.
"See, I'm a lot bigger than those other two guys, so I have to take care of them," jokes Branch, who at 5'9" and 195 has an inch on Woodhead and 10 pounds on Welker.
"You just get down there and finish things off," Welker says, smiling. "You have to let them know you're still coming after them, even all the way down there."
The eyes are blue-gray and steady, but there's something flickering there. It doesn't belong to anyone but Welker, because he's the only one who can look at a football field and see all of it, even what is not there but damned well ought to be. That's a gift as individual as seeing David in that block of marble, or Huck and Jim on the Mississippi, or that green place beyond the great water—the place only you see clearly, and in which you come to believe.
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