On Pro Football
---- — FOXBORO — The anonymous spring and summer banter from inside the confines of the Gillette Stadium walls warned us there would be days like these.
They warned us about fourth-year veteran receiver Julian Edelman.
Edelman was officially more than little college kid (Kent State), chipping in whenever he could.
Edelman was, we were informed secretly, Tom Brady’s new best friend, that they couldn’t get enough of each other (of course, when Gisele allowed him) on some practice field in California or Foxboro last spring.
They warned us that the consummate slot receiver, Wes Welker and his hefty $9.5 million “franchise tag” salary, had some competition coming his way.
It sounded semi-plausible. We had seen sporadic glimpses of Edelman making people miss and making plays.
The problem was that by the time the 2012 season was two months old, few if anybody believed the “Edelman hype.” We have been watching this defensive-back-challenged team for nearly three months and the only time we heard his name was “Edelman plays seven snaps” and “Edelman is ruled out because of his hand injury.”
Well, Sunday have been a game-changer, or better yet, a life-changer in assessing Edelman.
Sunday was the stuff of legends. Or at least, ex-Patriots legends. Sunday, Edelman gave Troy Brown, the consummate Patriot, a run for his money.
Edelman finished Sunday afternoon’s 59-24 blowout of the Indianapolis Colts with 222 all-purpose yards — rushing (47), receiving (58) and punt returns (117) — to go with his two touchdowns.
In fact, he was three yards away, on his 47-yard run on a reverse, from a third touchdown.
“It was unfortunate that I didn’t get in,” said a weary Edelman, still wearing his jersey while sitting on a chair in front of his locker. “But it set up a touchdown ... and it kind of put it away. So that was good.”
But there was more. Heck, even if he hadn’t amassed all of those yards or scored both of those touchdowns, he would have been in the running for Pats-Colts MVP.
His first catch, a “bubble screen” for 18 yards on opening drive, was on third down.
Edelman had another 17-yarder on a third-and-11 in the third quarter.
His receiving touchdown was on a third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, holding on to a Brady bullet on a slant that was at his knees.
And last, but not least, Edelman was given a forced fumble on a Colts punt return.
“Really,” said Edelman. “I just went for the ball. I love being on the punt (cover) team with my dogs.”
The play of the game, though, was Edelman’s 68-yard punt return for a touchdown. It changed the game, which was eerily looking like a 58-57 shootout at the time.
It not only put the Patriots ahead, 21-14, and sent Gillette Stadium in a frenzy, but it carried over to the next Colts possession, which two plays later turned into a 59-yard interception return by Patriots newbie, Aqib Talib.
Game, set and match.
Nearly four seasons into his Patriots routine, Edelman was down-playing this game and its place in his or Patriots history.
“We won the game,” said Edelman. “That’s all the matters. I had a pretty good game, but we won.”
Coach Bill Belichick usually is very, very careful praising anybody under his employ, but he went above and beyond his stock “I have to check the film” answer.
“Julian had a couple of big plays for us,” said the coach. “He’s another guy that’s worked hard. He missed some time after the Baltimore game. He’s really worked hard to get back — the return game, passing game, slip screens, stuff like that ... blocking.”
While Edelman should cherish those comments from his coach, which is about six games worth of compliments all in four sentences from Belichick, he would be best to turn the page and get ready for the N.Y. Jets in three days.
“Basically (Sunday) was Wednesday,” said Edelman. “I’m a little sore for a Wednesday, but I’ll be OK.”
Then he caught his breath and continued.
“Now,” said Edelman, “I have to do it again.”