FOXBORO, Mass. — Julian Edelman is the New England Patriots’ best receiver and, as anyone who’s watched any of the team’s NFL Films specials can attest, a master motivator on the field.
So with Edelman sidelined for the season with a torn ACL, the Patriots have needed to replace both his on-field production and the intangible benefits he brings to the team.
Through three games, that’s been a team effort.
“We have a good group,” wide receiver Danny Amendola said after the Patriots rallied to beat the Houston Texans 36-33 on Sunday. “We all try to channel our inner squirrel in that moment. But we surely miss him, and he’s a great player. I miss my boy.”
(Edelman’s nickname, of course, is “The Squirrel.”)
With Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell both on injured reserve, quarterback Tom Brady has spread the ball around this season. Tight end Rob Gronkowski leads the team with 16 receptions, followed by running back James White with 12, receivers Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks with 10 apiece and Amendola with nine.
On the game-winning drive Sunday, Brady targeted Cooks three times and Gronkowski and Amendola twice each, with Gronkowski and Amendola both picking up first downs in third-and-10-plus situations. The touchdown pass to Cooks that ended that drive and gave the Patriots a come-from-behind victory was Brady’s fifth of the game and his eighth of the season.
Cooks, who stepped into the No. 1 receiver role when Edelman went down in Week 3 of the preseason, seems to have gained Brady’s trust in his first year with the Patriots. He’s been one of the NFL’s top deep threats in the first three weeks of the season, catching three passes of 40-plus yards and leading the NFL in yards per catch with 25.6.
Amendola (fourth; 16.4 yards per catch), Hogan (10th; 15.4) and Gronkowski (13th; 14.9) all rank near the top of the league in that category, as well.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images