EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J — While media and fans have been busy wondering what’s wrong with the New England Patriots’ offense, wide receiver Julian Edelman has been quietly defying the odds in a comeback season.
Edelman led the Patriots in receiving Sunday in New England’s 27-13 win over the New York Jets, catching four passes on five targets for 84 yards with a touchdown. His hard-fought 21-yard touchdown catch wound up being the game-winning score late in the third quarter.
Edelman caught a short pass from Brady near the 15-yard line and kept churning through two Jets defenders until he found the end zone.
“I just tried to get in the end zone and protect the ball,” Edelman said after the game. “Ball security is job security here.”
Edelman missed last season with a torn ACL. He sat out an additional four games to start the season after he was suspended for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Many wondered if Edelman, at 32 years old, would be the same player after so much time off the game field. Former Patriots slot receivers Wes Welker and Troy Brown, who had similar skill sets to Edelman’s, started tailing off at 32.
Well, he’s the same old Edelman. The wideout now has 44 catches for 510 yards with three touchdowns in just seven games. Extrapolate those totals over a 16-game season, and he’d be on pace for the best year of his career.
So, how is he doing it?
“It’s been a grind mentally, emotionally, physically,” Edelman said. “But this grind just has to keep on going. This is real football time as you guys know. You guys have been around here for a while. So, my focus now is learn from your mistakes and put everything that you did decent or well in the bank and go from there. Just try to — it sounds lame, but if you go out and try to improve every day you get one percent better every day you’re not getting worse.”
Is it hard for Edelman to keep improving when he should be on the downturn of his career, though?
“Not really,” Edelman said. “There’s always something you can work on. And you constantly have to evolve yourself. My dad used to say, ‘when you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.’ So, I’m just trying to stay green.”
And stop me if you’ve heard this before, but despite Edelman’s showing so far — two 100-yard games, four games over 70 yards, six games over 50 yards — he’s still not satisfied.
“You can always do better,” Edelman said. “That’s my feeling on anything. You always have a few plays here or there where you wish, ‘Damn, I wish I had done this, that, that.’ Honestly, regardless of how you’re doing, you never feel like you’re satisfied. So, I still have that feeling.”
Through some accuracy issues from Tom Brady and injuries to running back Sony Michel, tight end Rob Gronkowski and the offensive line, Edelman has stayed steady. Maybe the 32-year-old hasn’t ripened just yet.