Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman got under the Saints' skin all week, torching them in practice and causing a few guys to lose their cool. So, when it came to Thursday night's preseason opener, it's a certainty that the Saints didn’t want Edelman to get his.
Yeah, so much for that.
Edelman caught all six passes thrown his way and scampered, scooted and scurried for 90 yards to help the Patriots beat the Saints 27-24 at Gillette Stadium. The second-year wideout also had a 40-yard punt return, and his efforts helped the Pats' offense get by without Wes Welker, who was held out of the lineup as part of New England's plan to bring him along in gradual fashion.
"Julian is a good player," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "He works hard. He really pays attention to the little things. Julian is one of those players that, when you ask him to work on something, he really puts effort into it and tries to do what the coaches ask him to do and improve. He's improved steadily since the day he got here for a guy who never played receiver until a little over a year ago at this time. He does a lot of things well, and he's still learning, still getting better and still works hard. He made some plays again [Thursday] with the ball in his hands."
Welker wasn’t on the shelf because of any setbacks, so there's little need to worry about that. It's likely just part of the Patriots' well-thought-out plan to make sure he's as physically strong as possible for the team's Sept. 12 regular-season opener against Cincinnati.
For the time being, Edelman played well in Welker's absence, but when the two are in the lineup together — along with Randy Moss, Brandon Tate and the rest of the cast — the Patriots have a set of quick, big-play weapons who will give defenses fits for days.
Edelman is a hard-nosed, passionate competitor who makes plays and bugs the crap out of other teams. He's got some fiery cockiness, and when he outworks someone, it usually doesn’t wind up too well for the defense.
"That’s the way Julian works," Patriots tight end Alge Crumpler said. "He's always trying to get the extra yard, make the first guy miss and he played extremely well."
Yet, Edelman has the desire to keep getting after it to make himself even better and more dangerous. The former Kent State quarterback and 2009 seventh-round draft pick, Edelman couldn’t even catch a punt or run a passing route during his rookie training camp. The highs — a punt return for a touchdown during his first ever preseason game — were met by lows, such as inconsistency and injuries.
Edelman knows that, too. That’s why he'll do it all over again this weekend, staring at film and judging his own performance against the Saints. Things are only going to get better for Edelman, because he's the type of guy who will go out and do everything to make that happen.
"I have a long way to go," Edelman said. "I messed up a couple times. I missed a couple blocks here and there, and go back to the film, study that and get better."