FOXBORO, Mass. — There were three traditional slot receivers on the Gillette Stadium field on Sunday night, and only one of them eclipsed 100 yards, scored two touchdowns and pulled in nine receptions: Julian Edelman.
After Wes Welker and Danny Amendola signed nearly identical contracts within hours of one another in March, Julian Edelman became an afterthought. All 32 NFL teams had a shot at the former college quarterback, yet he was only able to get a one-year, $765,000 contract with no guaranteed money from the Patriots nearly a month after Welker and Amendola signed.
Edelman is already outproducing Amendola this season, and, after Sunday night’s game, he’s creeping up on Welker, too. Edelman had nine catches on 11 targets for 110 yards and two touchdowns. His biggest play was a 43-yarder where he wound up wide open after shaking Denver’s defenders with a double move.
Welker finished with four catches and 31 yards on eight targets, getting shut down by Kyle Arrington, and Amendola finished with three catches on six targets for 17 yards.
If Brady wasn’t so good in the second half, Edelman would have been the clear star of the game. And he was able to have such a great game despite getting limited fanfare all week in Welker’s grand return to Foxboro.
Edelman deflected questions about his impact in the game (almost as well as he deflected passes as a defensive back in 2011), which also included 39 yards on three punt returns.
“Well, I fumbled a punt after I muffed one, so that’s not that good,” Edelman said, downplaying his impressive game. “I haven’t even thought about it. Today, my number was called a few times, and I was able to have a couple opportunities, and I just try to take advantage of them. A couple games back it was KT [Kenbrell Thompkins], AD [Aaron Dobson], Danny. That’s our job — our job is to be able to get open and catch the football, and I was able to do that a few times.”
There’s a reason Edelman goes so unheralded. He’s a funny, charming personality if you look into the fifth-year player, but in speaking to the press, Edelman rarely shows that side. And he’s never been the team’s No. 1 option.
Edelman was overshadowed by Welker and Randy Moss when he first came to the Patriots in 2009, and he’s had Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola (and one other player who sits in Bristol County Jail) stealing headlines recently. But Edelman has been the team’s most dependable option by far this season.
“He’s been so dependable and consistent all year for our team,” Tom Brady said. “He’s been the one veteran player on the offense who’s been in there and been around. He did a great job. He always does a great job. He’s tough, smart and disciplined. It’s fun to see him do well because he deserves it.”
Some games Thompkins or Dobson will shine. And there have been games when Amendola has been the star, but Edelman keeps plugging along. And now he’s got 61 receptions, 610 yards and four touchdowns to show for it.
“Julian did a great job,” Bill Belichick said. “First of all, he did a good job of handling the ball, especially in the third and fourth quarter there. Made a couple good runs with the ball in his hands, also got open, caught the ball. The end route he got there gave us the field position in the overtime, it was a big play.”
For years, Edelman showed this type of potential. And some argued going into the offseason that the Patriots didn’t need to sign Welker or Amendola if they could lock up Edelman. But he had never proved he could shoulder the load or stay healthy for a full season. This year, he’s doing just that.
The Patriots are lucky to have Edelman on such a paltry contract this season. If this type of production keeps up, he’ll be getting his own Amendola- or Welker-sized deal this offseason.