FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick called Wes Welker's collision Sunday with New England cornerback Aqib Talib "one of the worst plays I've seen," a sharp critique of the actions of one of his former stars.
Belichick delivered the comments roughly one minute into his news conference at Gillette Stadium on Monday morning, less than 24 hours after the Patriots fell to the Denver Broncos 26-16 in the AFC Championship Game.
Belichick's criticism was unprovoked, part of the coach's opening remarks, and stands as stinging commentary from a man who usually limits what he provides in a public forum.
"It was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib. No attempt to get open," Belichick said. "I'll let the league handle the discipline on that play, whatever they decide. It's one of the worst plays I've seen. That's all I'll say about that."
The play that will now be talked about for years to come occurred in the second quarter Sunday. With the Broncos in the early portions of a drive that would put them up 10-0, Welker streaked through the middle of the field and smacked into a crossing Talib, who left with a knee injury and did not return.
Welker was not penalized on the play, but Belichick was not alone in his thinking that there should have been some sort of action taken, either then or in the near future.
Broncos coach John Fox said he had not heard Belichick's criticism but responded by defending both Welker and the play.
"I haven't seen the tape, I haven't seen [Belichick's] comments … I know that Wes Welker is a great player, high integrity," Fox said. "We were not doing anything with intent."
"When I saw it, just as a player in general, Wes, was he doing his job? I'm sure he was to a certain degree," Patriots defensive end Andre Carter said. "I think the hit could've [been] cleaner. I've been around a lot of football to see that.
"At the end of the day, it was a nasty play. We'll see what the league does."
Carter also labeled the play by Welker as "unacceptable," although he did acknowledge that plays of this variety are part of the game and something for which defenders need to prepare.
Others on the New England side agreed, almost hailing the play as a smart one until the league figures out a way to police the situation or remove some of the grey area between what is and what isn't a penalty.
Fox also pointed out that the Patriots run similar plays.
"We're not the only team by any stretch [to use rub-route plays]," Fox said. "In fact our opponent Sunday did the same thing."
Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty had yet to view tape of the play, but could see both sides of the argument.
"[Belichick's] seen a lot of football. so I might go with what he says, but I haven't watched it or had a chance to look at it," McCourty said before being asked if Welker had intent to injure. "I don't know. That's tough to say someone would do that, but I think all of us out there would do anything to try to win the game.
"Each team's different but they're very good at [the rub route]. They run that a lot, they do a good job of it. so it happens a lot. They don't get called if they're done a certain way, or they might get called one time and you run it seven, eight times and it gets called once. So it's a pretty good play to run."
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had a field day without New England's best cornerback in the mix, throwing for 400 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Manning passed for 289 yards after Talib left and at one point completed 14 consecutive attempts.
Belichick acknowledged after the game that the Talib injury had a major impact on the outcome, and Talib's teammates said the same Monday.
"Definitely, big time. Aqib's a heck of a football player for us," safety Steve Gregory said. "He matches up against what we consider the top receiver week in and week out. He's a leader, he's a competitive guy, a guy that's going to go out and give you everything he's got, so you never want to lose a guy like that. But at the same time, other guys have to step up like we've done all year.
"By no means is it easy to replace a guy like Aqib so, yeah, it was tough to see him go down."
Gregory, Welker's teammate in 2012, stopped short of saying the Denver receiver had bad intentions.
"I don't think anybody in this league does things deliberately to hurt another player," Gregory said. "I don't think anybody really plays that way, especially at this level of football with two great football teams with the Broncos and ourselves. I don't know."
Welker, who shined for the Patriots from 2007 to 2012, said he had no intent to take out his former teammate.
"It was one of those plays where it's kind of a rough play and I was trying to get him to go over the top, and I think he was thinking the same thing and wanted to come underneath and we just kind of collided," Welker said Sunday. "It wasn't a deal where I was trying to hit him or anything like that.
"I hope he's OK. He's a great player and a big part of their defense."
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said during an interview Monday with Boston radio station WEEI that Welker "is a great player and a great friend" but acknowledged that he had not yet watched the play and could not comment on it.
It marked the second straight year that Talib was injured in the AFC Championship Game.
"I was asked about the hit on Talib, and I feel badly for Aqib," Belichick said Monday. "The way that play turned out -- I went back and watched it, which I didn't have a chance to yesterday."
Belichick was asked later during the news conference if "pick plays," such as the one he accused Welker of, are common and if Denver runs them more than other teams.
"I'd say most all teams in the league do it. They do what they need to do," Belichick said before seizing the opportunity to praise Manning. "That's one of the things that Manning does a great job with on that offense. Depending on how you're playing him, he's going to attack you based on what you're doing.
"If you do certain things, he's going to do certain things. If you do other things, he's going to do other things. He's going to run the plays that are good plays against what you're doing. Runs, passes, schemes -- whatever they are, that's what makes him a great, great, great quarterback. ... Situationally, red area, third down, he sees a new look that he thinks he can take advantage of. There's nobody better than he is."
Talib went to the locker room multiple times Sunday and warmed up on the sideline but was unable to return to the contest.
"If I could be out there, I would've been out there, man," Talib said after the game.
"It was very tough," cornerback Alfonzo Dennard said about the loss of Talib. "After he went out, they attacked. It was very hard."
Although Welker starred under Belichick for six years, he chose to move on last offseason after becoming a free agent.
While with the Patriots, Welker was benched to start a game for comments about New York Jets coach Rex Ryan. In 2012, Welker took a sarcastic jab at Belichick when his production skyrocketed following a slow start to the season, saying, "It's kind of nice to stick it in Bill's face once in a while."
After choosing to sign with the Broncos, Welker said in a Sports Illustrated report that he had to "endure" Belichick during his time in New England.
Welker finished with four catches for 38 yards in Sunday's victory, which vaulted the Broncos into a Super Bowl matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.
ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss and Field Yates contributed to this report.