Julian EdelmanIt seemed there were only three players that Tom Brady could count on against the Bills on Sunday. One of them was Julian Edelman.

For much of Edelman’s young career, the college quarterback turned receiver couldn’t seem to get out of his own way. The potential and talent were there, but the production never seemed to sync up with the enormous hype that preceded him.

After first blazing onto the scene as a stud rookie slot receiver at the end of the 2009 season, catching a career-high 10 passes in place of an injured Wes Welker in Week 17, Edelman was expected to be the heir apparent to the almighty Welker’s slot throne. But injuries and consistency issues continued to keep the promising young receiver from ever emerging fully — until now.

Edelman finally reclaimed his place in the Patriots’ offense on Sunday, catching seven passes for 79 yards and proving to be something of a security blanket for Brady, especially while Danny Amendola sat sidelined with a groin injury. With Amendola hampered and rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce seemingly overwhelmed, Edelman broke out.

The fifth-year veteran ran some great post routes over the middle to get open and even ran some combination routes with Amendola to perfection later in the game, allowing Brady some clear passing lanes at times. He also came up big down near the goal line.

Without Rob Gronkowski on the field, the Patriots didn’t exactly have a reliable receiver to look to in the red zone. Amendola is clutch but more of a possession receiver and 6-foot-3 rookie Aaron Dobson was inactive for the game. So, Edelman saw the opportunity and took charge.

Edelman found some open space in the defense down deep in Bills territory early in the first quarter and was on the receiving end of Brady’s first touchdown pass of the season. A few series went by before Edelman’s name was called again, but a few more short grabs over the middle quickly led to Brady looking Edelman’s way for their second score of the day.

Bill Belichick has stuck by Edelman through all the injuries, mental lapses and even some legal trouble. On Sunday, the versatile receiver finally rewarded that patience with his best performance in close to four years. The head coach even praised Edelman for his many contributions, including those on special teams, on Monday.

“We’ve seen Julian do a lot of different things for us: he’s returned kicks, he’s covered kicks, he’s played defense, he’s run with the ball, he’s caught the ball,” Belichick said during a conference call on Monday. “He has a lot of different skills and we’ve used him in a lot of different ways with the ball in his hands. He’s an aggressive blocker and also as I said, in the kicking game and on defense. Versatility is definitely one of his strengths. He’s a tough kid, he’s a good competitor, he has good body strength, he’s got some speed and he’s got quickness. He’s got a lot of things going for him”

One thing that Edelman has going for him now, that he didn’t even a week ago, is Brady’s confidence. Edelman has officially become one of Brady’s trusted targets and should continue to see extended looks at receiver as the season rolls on. Amendola, who reinjured his groin in Sunday’s win over the Bills, and Gronk are unlikely to play against the Jets on Thursday, leaving a major hole in the middle of the Patriots’ receiving corps. Dobson, Thompkins and Boyce will be leaned on to contribute in their absences, but Edelman will likely become the go-to guy.

So, expect there to be a much greater reliance on Edelman come Thursday. Just don’t be surprised if he rises to the occasion, much like he did in 2009.

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