FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The Patriots and Jets agree on one thing: All that midweek trash-talking had no effect on the game.
Except for Wes Welker.
The New England receiver was reportedly benched for the Patriots' opening possession after mocking New York coach Rex Ryan during the week. Welker was on the field to receive a punt when the Jets' opening drive stalled, but Julian Edelman played the first series in his place.
CBS said during the game broadcast that Welker was being punished for a Thursday news conference in which he made about a dozen references to toes and feet, a not-so-subtle reference to recent foot-fetish reports involving Ryan. Asked why Welker didn't start, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, "I don't have any comment on that."
Welker would neither confirm nor deny that he was benched.
"I (was) just waiting for the opportunity to go out there and play," he said after the Jets beat the Patriots 28-21 to advance to the AFC title game. "At the end of the day, I respect the Jets. I respect Rex Ryan. They played better than us, and they won."
The rivalry between New York and New England was spiced up by an eruption of trash-talking this week, when Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie called Patriots quarterback Tom Brady a bad name and Ryan tried to turn the game into a grudge match between the coaches.
Although the Patriots have long tried to cultivate a buttoned-down, businesslike personality, Welker broke character when he met with reporters on Thursday and dropped in repeated references to "putting your best foot forward," ''sticking your toe in the water" and "being good little foot soldiers."
Ryan said he was not offended.
"Anything goes this week," he said. "That's the way it is."
But Jets cornerback Bart Scott said on Friday that Welker's "days in a uniform are numbered" and, when asked to clarify, said: "I meant that I was going to try and take my helmet and try to ram it through his chest."
An NFL official warned both teams about the trash-talking. But after the game, Scott was unapologetic.
"I can take comments however I choose to," said Scott, who also played for Ryan in Baltimore. "That's my privilege. I took offense to it. I handled it that way and I stand behind my words. ... And if I get another opportunity, let him come through the middle and I'm going try to put him through the ground."
Welker missed New England's only playoff game last year after blowing out his knee in a meaningless end-of-season game. But he returned from reconstructive surgery on the ligaments in his left knee in time for the 2010 season opener, giving Brady one of his favorite targets.
Welker, who caught more than 100 passes in each of the last three years, had 86 catches for 848 yards and seven touchdowns this season. On Sunday, he sat out New England's opening drive, which ended when David Harris picked off Brady.
Welker was back in the game for the Patriots' second possession.
He finished with seven catches for 57 yards.
(This version CORRECTS Updates with end of game, Welker comments. Corrects to about a dozen, instead of more than)