Julian Edelman proves heart and soul of Patriots in another AFC East title

Mike Petraglia
December 18, 2016 - 10:08 pm

Tom Brady found his favorite target Julian Edelman Sunday in Denver. (Chris Humphreys/USA Today Sports)

DENVER - Where would the Patriots be without Julian Edelman?

With Rob Gronkowski out for the year, he proved beyond a doubt Sunday, just how critical he is to best buddy Tom Brady and the rest of the offense in a 16-3 AFC East division-clinching win at Sports Authority Field.

Brady opened Sunday misfiring on his first six pass attempts, finishing without a pass completion in the first quarter for the first time since 2009. Who did he look to early in the second quarter after a strip-sack at midfield?

Naturally, Edelman.

Edelman got open on a short route out to the left and raced 17 yards for a first down. On the drive that led to the only touchdown in the game, Edelman caught passes of 17, 15 and 12 as Brady and the offense went out to a 10-3 lead they would not relinquish on this Sunday in Denver.

It wasn't the six catches or 75 yards that stuck out to Martellus Bennett. What stuck out to Bennett was his absolute resolve to find a way to make the big catch when the team needed it.

Bennett couldn't have made it more clear how much he respects the 5-foot-10 spark plug.

"I mean Julian brings it every single week," Bennett said. "We know what we're getting out of him. He's never backed down from a fight. He knows that we'll always have his back. That's Julian. 

"When I see Julian Edelman, I just see Julian Edelman. A lot of times when you see a small white guy, you want to call him Wes Welker or something like that. But that's Julian being Julian. So, he's making a name for himself. So, the next small white guy comes in he's going to be called the 'Julian Edelman' of the NFL. He's been doing a great job." 

Bennett sees someone who embodies what the Patriots are all about, someone who won't back down.

"I love playing with him," Bennett said. "He's a guy that you want to go to battle with every single week. He just brings it every single week."

Bennett also trusts Edelman not to cross the line, like in the fourth quarter when T.J. Ward flexed his muscles to the Patriots sideline after a big hit on Edelman. Ward took a 15-yard penalty but Edelman started to get in Ward's face. It didn't escalate to offsetting penalties on a clock-killing drive because the Patriots had Edelman's back and stepped in.

"I just thought, 'idiot,'" Bennett said of Ward, "but in that situation Julian doesn't want to back down so we just have to take care of our own and make sure that we don't get an off-setting penalty because that's a big play for us in that period of time. We were smart about it."

"We're never going to do something stupid but we're never going to back down to somebody that tries to get up in our face or something like that," added Chris Hogan. "That's the type of team we are and we're going to be behind him 100 percent. I'm pretty sure the whole team is probably right there behind him. We've got each other's backs." 

Hogan told me that, in no uncertain terms, Edelman leads the Patriots receiving corps. Sunday was just another example.

"He's the leader of our room," Hogan said. "I thought he played amazing today. It was one of those games where was making some tough catches and getting hit a lot. Every single week, he makes plays, man. We look for him to make plays because he's a big part of our offense. He just does it every single week. I just think he's a great receiver."

Edelman's quintessential play was getting open behind a linebacker on the Patriots' drive that put them up 13-3. As Brady was scrambling around midfield on third-and-6, Edelman got himself open and caught a lob of a pass from Brady for a first down. It led to the Patriots converting a 40-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski.

"It was tough. They're a good defense, but we made plays when we had to," Edelman said. "We played complementary football. The defense played a hell of a game, special teams did well, so it was a good complementary win. You know when you come here, you're on the road, this is a hostile environment, they have a good set of fans here, so you know it's going to go down to the wire. We haven't won much here, so it was just good to come in here and get a W." 

And that W led to something Edelman has enjoyed every single year he's been in pro football with the Patriots - an AFC East title. 

"It's very nice. I've won a division title here every year I've been here so you can't take that for granted," Edelman said. "That's what all the hard work is about in March, April, May, OTAs, coming back from injuries for multiple guys. This is all the hard work and this is one of the steps you want to go through. This doesn't come easy. Our team works hard and we continually try to improve and Coach [Belichick] is always on us, and it's tough that's what gets wins. It's an honor to get to play here and experience eight of them.

"It feels good because we got a hat and t-shirt out of it. What happens in the past, happens in the past. Of course, there's things you wish you could have been changed, but those are different circumstances and it's a completely new team and new year so it was just good to come in here and get a win on the road against an AFC opponent." 

A win they wouldn't have secured without Edelman and his toughness on the field.