Houston We Have A Problem

How appropriate was it that Wes Welker's last catch in the 2009 season vaunted him into the record books and resulted in yet another first down? Welker is done for the season, and now it's up to the Patriots to scramble to find a way to win without their MVP.

Two things are certain following all the action Sunday: one very good for Patriots fans, one very bad.

Bill Belichick's Patriots (10-6) will return to the playoffs after a one-year absence as the No. 3 seed in the AFC to host the Ravens at Gillette Stadium on wild-card weekend.

New England heads into the postseason without leading receiver Wes Welker, who reportedly tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in the finale.

While the AFC East champs are clearly happy to be back in the postseason, it's also clear that the team's chances of getting to and potentially winning another Super Bowl took a huge hit when the Pro Bowler Welker went down with a non-contact left knee injury on the fourth offensive snap of the season finale 34-27 loss at Houston.

In the city that spurned the famous NASA quote, "Houston, we have a problem," Tom Brady has just that. Banged up himself with three broken ribs, the quarterback will be without the guy who's caught more passes than anyone in the NFL over the last three seasons while surpassing the 100-catch plateau three-straight times.

Heading into a rematch against a Ravens team the Patriots barely held on to beat in Week 4, Belichick focused on the opportunity his team had and, typically, deflected any talk of Welker's injury.

"We've worked all year to be in this position, to be in the playoffs," Belichick said.

But for most of the season the work was done with Welker as a key part, along with Brady and Randy Moss, of the three-headed monster passing attack.

Now players such as rookie seventh-round pick and converted college quarterback Julian Edelman will be expected to step up at receiver. He led New England with 10 catches for 103 yards in the loss to Houston, much like he'd led New England in receptions in a loss at the Jets earlier in the season. The numbers were there, but the overall results were not.

That's the challenge the Patriots face in Foxborough against Baltimore, replacing one of the most productive receivers in the game in recent years. It'll take a team effort.

"We've been going through that all year," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "People up. People down. Will we miss him? Yeah we will. But the guys that are behind him have to step up and make plays."

New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker (83) catches a pass for a first down during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2010 in Houston. Welker was injured on the play and left the game. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)


LINEUP WATCH: Laurence Maroney led New England's five-man running back committee during the regular season with a career-high 194 attempts, 757 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. But a return to health for both Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor coming down the stretch combined with Maroney's four lost fumbles on the season -- including a pair in the red zone -- could push the fourth-year former first round pick to the sidelines in the postseason.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- Number of times the Patriots have advanced to the Super Bowl when entering the postseason as anything other than the No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Since the current seeding system was created in 1990, New England's five Super Bowl trips have all come in part thanks to the bye week that comes with the top two seeds. The Patriots are the No. 3 seed this January.

--RB Laurence Maroney (knee) was inactive for the finale in Houston, two days after popping up on the injury report and a week after being benched following a first-quarter goal-line fumble against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

--DE Ty Warren (ankle) missed his third game of the season and second in three weeks when he sat out Sunday's finale in Houston.

--NT Vince Wilfork (foot) missed his third straight game to close out the season.

--CB Leigh Bodden (knee) led the rest of the inactives in Houston, with RB Kevin Faulk, OL Rich Ohrnberger and OL Ryan Wendell.

--DL Titus Adams was waived Dec. 31 to make room on the roster for OL Ryan Wendell, a practice squad call-up.

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