New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) and wide receiver Danny Amendola (80) celebrate a touchdown during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Julian Edelman was the glue, now getting his due on a national scale

New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman has a lot of admirable qualities. He’s versatile, he’s humble, he’s reliable (when he’s healthy), he’s fast, and he’s scrappy. That scrappiness is a trademark of wide receivers who have recently played the slot in Foxboro, whether it be Denver Broncos receiver Wes Welker or current top Pats wideout Danny Amendola.

But in a game in which Danny Amendola was held in check by elite slot CB Chris Harris Jr. and the Broncos pass offense wasn’t clicking in Welker’s return, it was Julian Edelman who stole the show. Guys like Demaryius Thomas, Welker, and Eric Decker were on the other side of the field, but Edelman outshone them all. He even outplayed fellow, touted teammates Amendola and Rob Gronkowski, who had a pretty darn good game in his own right with seven catches for 90 yards and a touchdown.

Edelman, though, bested them all with nine receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns, and he only needed 11 targets to put up those numbers (that’s ten yards per pass attempt, for those keeping score). He’s only 5’10”, but Edelman scores touchdowns with savvy, as we saw with his short TD catch yesterday in which he read Brady’s pass perfectly. In fact, Edelman shares an incredible connection with Brady that not even snubbed high-fives can mar.

Like Welker, Edelman has played (in Welker’s case, just “played”) with Brady for five seasons now, and he’s having his best year yet. The Patriots offense is all about timing, precise route-running, and knowing how to work with Brady. It’s complex, it takes repetition, and it’s why we’ve seen on-and-off play from the likes of Kenbrell Thompkins. Also, we all know how difficult it was for diva receiver Chad Ochocinco to learn that offense.

Edelman, though, doesn’t have any difficulties due to his own high football IQ (he used to play quarterback in college at Kent State) and the fact that he’s been in the Patriots system for several years. It was only last year when the Patriots finally figured out that they had a real weapon on their hands, as he had a sequence of games last year in November in which he made huge plays as a receiver and as a returner. One of the best punt returners of all time, Edelman vastly improved his “long speed” (to that point, he was only a “quickness” guy, which hurt his ability to become a major player in the Patriots offense with the durable and excellent Welker hoarding targets) and became a key cog in the Patriots offense.

Unfortunately, that only lasted a month, because Edelman suffered a broken foot. If there’s one thing that has prevented Edelman from putting up the numbers he’s put up this year, it’s been injuries. Thankfully, he hasn’t missed a game this year. After last year’s performance and with an overhaul at the wide receiver position, Edelman was counted on to be a big part of the offense; not just because of his familiarity, but because of the talent he showed.

Patriots fans have always held Edelman in a pretty high regard, and, for them, it was only a question of health- not skill- when it came to Edelman; I’m sure the team felt the same way.

The Patriots were undefeated through the first four weeks of the regular season despite a significant injury to Danny Amendola (Shane Vereen, too) and horrible play from the rookie wide receivers (and obviously, no Gronk). But Edelman kept Brady and the Patriots offense afloat by playing out of his mind. The prime safety valve, Edelman caught a whopping 34 passes through those first four games and was the league leader in receptions up to that point in time (well, he was “only” tied for first). Despite all the chaos around him in the passing offense that even led to questions about Brady’s own ability (in hindsight, those concerns look even more foolish, especially after he cut the ball through the wind with near-perfection last night) to get the job done.

There is little doubt that Julian Edelman has truly emerged as a solid wide receiver in this league, and I think we need to talk about him like we would talk about a solid No. 2 receiver. His importance to the team cannot be forgotten, because he greatly eased the Patriots growing pains at the beginning of the season. None of the opponents they faced were great (though the Julio Jones-led Falcons and New York Jets were solid foes) at the time, but they needed to have a guy step up through the injuries and lumps from the rookie receivers. That guy was Julian Edelman.

In the three weeks before the Broncos game, Edelman never caught more than three passes in a game and looked like an afterthought in the Pats offense. It was weird to see this unfold, because Edelman had just one game under five receptions (two catches for 35 yards in that awful offensive performance by the Patriots against the Cincinnati Bengals) in the first seven weeks of the season.

That brief lack of productivity was ended by last night’s game, and Edelman was one of the brightest stars in one of the biggest games of the season. He’s getting the national recognition that he deserves for his 110-yard, two-touchdown performance, and so I felt it was appropriate to briefly look back at the season he’s had, as well as the flashes he showed last season. It’s important to contextualize Edelman’s achievements and importance, because he tends to go underrated on a national scale (but he’s definitely not underrated by appreciative Patriots fans).

I’m looking forward to watching what is to come for Edelman, and I can only hope that health continues to treat him well, because he deserves at least that much. With 61 receptions this season, it’s safe to say that Edelman has been one of the most reliable receivers in the league, and his improved speed also makes him a threat to make big plays. I mean, he did show up well in the red zone with two TDs yesterday and also did an amazing job getting open (he’s great at getting open, that’s for sure) on a 43-yard pass.

Tags: Julian Edelman New England Patriots Notes And Analysis

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