FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Wes Welker returned to Gillette Stadium on Sunday night.
And you hardly knew it.
Welker was one of the most prolific receivers in the NFL during the six seasons he played for the New England Patriots. He signed with the Denver Broncos in the offseason, and Sunday was his first appearance against his old friends and in front of his old fans.
He admitted to the Denver media earlier in the week that he was excited for this game and hoped to play. He was recovering from a concussion suffered a week ago.
“It’s a big game, a big matchup,’’ he said. “(It’s a) great environment and everything else. I really look forward to it.”
His return was rather muted. Unlike the return of other ex-Patriots, the fans didn’t boo him. Nor did they cheer much.
Even the Patriots downplayed his return.
Owner Robert Kraft was the only member of the organization to speak to Welker during warm-ups. The two embraced at midfield and spoke for a couple minutes.
As the Broncos ran onto the field to boos, the Patriots slipped in a brief video montage of Welker’s career highlights with the Patriots, set to the tune of U2’s “Hold me, Thrill me, Kiss me, Kill me.’’ At the end of the video, they displayed a photo of Welker in his Patriots jersey with the message, “The Kraft Family, and the New England Patriots and Patriots fans, thank Wes Welker for six memorable seasons.’’
Welker had a quiet night, as did most of Denver’s receivers. The Broncos ran the ball extremely well against the Patriots, and Peyton Manning didn’t need to throw much on a night better served by running.
Welker had only one catch for five yards in the first half – and that came on Denver’s first series.
He later caught a 17-yard pass from Peyton Manning on a third-and-5 and drew his first boos from the Patriots fans.
THE GAME-TIME temperature was 22 degrees, and the 22 mph wind made the wind chill feel like 6 degrees.
It was the coldest home game for the Patriots since Dec. 26, 1993, a 38-0 win over Indianapolis at old Foxboro Stadium. The temperature that day was 19 with a wind chill of minus-2.
The coldest home game in Patriots history was played on Jan. 10, 2004, a 17-14 playoff win over Tennessee. It was a beer-freezing 4 degrees that night, with a wind chill of minus-10.
Entering the game, the Patriots were 25-4 when the temperature is 30 or colder.
THE PATRIOTS fumbled the ball six times in the first half, losing three – all in the first quarter. Running back Stevan Ridley’s fumble was returned 60 yards by Von Miller for Denver’s first touchdown. Tom Brady’s fumble on a strip sack by Miller led to a 2-yard touchdown run by Knowshon Moreno, who had 107 rushing yards in the first half. LeGarrette Blount’s fumble led to a 27-yard field goal by Matt Prater.
The other fumbles? Julian Edelman muffed a punt, recovered it, then fumbled when hit. But it was recovered by teammate Michael Buchanan. Brady later fumbled a snap but recovered it.
SAFETY STEVE Gregory was inactive. It was his second missed game since he broke his right thumb against Pittsburgh on Nov. 3.
But cornerbacks Aqib Talib (hip), Alfonzo Dennard (knee) and Kyle Arrington (groin), all listed as questionable, were all active. That was thought to be a plus for New England against Denver’s high-flying offense, which was still dangerous despite missing tight end Julius Thomas and his team-leading 10 touchdown catches.
STEPHEN GOSTKOWSKI set a franchise record with his PAT kick after Brady’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Edelman early in the third quarter. That gave him a point in 102 consecutive games.
BRADY’S TOUCHDOWN pass to Rob Gronkowski in the third quarter was the 350th of his career, making him the fifth player in NFL history to reach that milestone.
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: