Says Welker, "These guys are both one-of-a-kind players at their position, and we've got them. How do you defend them?"
You can see the Patriots aren't afraid of deploying Hernandez anywhere—and thus the matchup issue. When he's split wide, do you put a corner on him? When he's a tight end or flanker, do you use a safety, or maybe a quicker linebacker? Most often Denver had a safety on Hernandez, but Hernandez was fast enough to shuck him off. And even when Brady didn't throw to him, it was only because he had Gronkowski open as well. On a couple of occasions Hernandez appeared to be wide-open and running free—but because of the trust Brady has in Gronkowski (whose 1,327 receiving yards and 17 touchdown catches in 2011 were both NFL records for a tight end), he went to the big man.
Now the Patriots enter the most important game of their season with not just one X factor but two. "I'm a lucky man," Hernandez said in a cleared-out locker room on Saturday night. "It's a dream come true to play for the Patriots. And to do all this stuff? When they drafted me I was just hoping they'd use me. Now they're using me wherever, whatever. It's great."
The Patriots have their best chance since the 2007 season to win the fourth Super Bowl of the Belichick era. They failed then. They're better now, and the quirky tight end attack is the biggest reason why.