A few thoughts in the aftermath of Super Bowl XLVI:

• Wes Welker has been getting the Bill Buckner treatment for not catching the fourth-quarter pass from Tom Brady that would have allowed the Patriots to continue running down the clock and set up at least a field goal, but methinks Brady deserves a reasonable percentage of the blame, as all Welker had to do was to corkscrew his body around while jumping to get his hands on the football.

• Again the line is fine between success and failure in the big game, in this case the play Brady and Welker were unable to make followed by the play Eli Manning and Mario Manningham did make. Think back to four years ago, and it was the interception the Patriots’ Assante Samuel didn’t make and pass play Manning and David Tyree did make that made all the difference.

• While Patriots’ fans experienced a disappointing ending to their season, it’s fair to say that overall this team probably exceeded expectations by reaching the Super Bowl. The defense did round into shape in time for postseason play, but watching the growing pains it endured was painful indeed. As for the offense, the lack of a consistent running game and a deep receiving threat was offset by the short passing game and the tight end tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

The Patriots certainly benefited from what turned out to be a weak schedule — their only win over a winning team came in the AFC championship game against Baltimore — but a 15-4 record is good any year in any sport.

• Las Vegas oddsmakers have installed New England as the early favorite to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVII, scheduled for Feb. 3, 2013, in New Orleans.

A check of five different sites indicated the New England was the AFC favorite in all cases and the favorite to win the Super Bowl by three of the sites. Green Bay is the early NFC favorite, just ahead of New Orleans, while Pittsburgh is the second pick behind the Patriots in the AFC.

• New England now holds picks No. 27 and 31 in the first round of the coming NFL draft, as well as picks No. 48 and 64 in the second round. It’s a chance for Bill Belichick and his staff to directly address areas that need to be addressed if the Patriots are to return to the Super Bowl in 2013.

Those needs include defensive back, pass rusher, deep-threat wide receiver and go-to running back.

Some of those needs may be filled through free agency, which generally has been a richer source of restocking for the Patriots than the draft in recent years — Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynsworth notwithstanding.

Brandon Lloyd, a free agent wideout with the St. Louis Rams, may provide the deep threat. Lloyd, who had 70 catches for 966 yards this season, has indicated he would like to continue playing for Josh McDaniels, who was his head coach two years ago in Denver and his offensive coordinator with the Rams this season. McDaniels, of course, on Monday was named the Patriots’ offensive coordinator.

But here’s hoping rather than trade down for multiple picks in lower rounds in subsequent drafts, as has been Belichick’s practice, the Patriots will keep the picks and address needs rather than taking “the best available athlete.”

Brady will be 35 when next season starts, and while he still is among the NFL’s best quarterbacks, the clock is ticking.

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...