Julian Edelman is quick to admit that it's been a challenging second NFL season, having entered Sunday's game with just four catches for 14 yards after a 37-reception rookie season.
If one play symbolized the converted college quarterback's season, it was a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown a month ago against the Bears . . . which was promptly called back mid-celebration because of a holding penalty.
It's been that kind of season. But it wasn't too late to turn it around, and Edelman's performance against the Dolphins was his overdue day of redemption.
Edelman flashed the moves that made him such a promising prospect a year ago, giving the Patriots a 24-0 lead just before halftime with a dazzling 94-yard punt return for a touchdown. The distance of the return was the longest in franchise history, breaking the mark set by Mike Haynes on his 89-yard return vs. the Bills on Nov. 7, 1976.
The affable Edelman admitted he was thinking about his lost touchdown in Chicago as he approached the end zone Sunday.
"I'm not going to lie, I was actually thinking about that," he said. "I was thinking, 'I'm going to look like an idiot [jumping up into the stands] if there's a flag out there.' But there wasn't, fortunately, and we got the touchdown finally."
Edelman also contributed in the passing game, catching three passes for 72 yards, including a career long of 40 shortly before his punt return for a TD. He said it's been different not being as involved in the passing game with the return to health of Wes Welker, the reacquisition of Deion Branch, and the drafting of tight ends Rob Gronkowski (who had his first 100-yard receiving game Sunday) and Aaron Hernandez.
"It's been different, but I'm just happy to contribute in any way possible," Edelman said. "My role has changed a little bit this year. I had to take on punt returning a little bit more to get my plays. Whatever the coaches ask me to do, I'm going to do that because they've given me my opportunity to play in this league and I'm very thankful for that."
Brady said Edelman became more of a factor today in part because Welker, whose skill set is similar if much more refined than Edelman's, missed his first game of the season.
"Well, Julian's a young player," Brady said. "So, I think with any young player there are always ups and downs over the course of the year and he’s always been a very confident player. I think he’s really, when the ball’s in his hands, he’s very dangerous. He’s a great run-after-catch type receiver. He just hasn’t had as many opportunities this year with Wes being out there for the whole season, basically."
For his part, Edelman said it was a little different playing with both Brady and backup Brian Hoyer.
"Brian does a real good job," Edelman said. "Brian is always in Tom’s back pocket. He’s always following and doing everything that he does: wears the same kind of clothes as Tom, drives the same kind of car as Tom. If Tom has a Vitamin Water, you’ll see Brian with a Vitamin Water or something like that. It’s funny, but Brian does an awesome job. He goes in there and he works so hard all week. Whether it’s on scout team, he’s going to lead that little group and take it like it’s a game. So, whatever Brian does, he deserves because he works his tail off."
Hoyer, like Edelman and debuting receiver Taylor Price (three catches, 41 yards), was another of the young players to find success today. He completed 7 of 13 passes for 122 yards, including his first career touchdown pass, a spectacular throw-and-catch hauled in by Brandon Tate for a 42-yard score.
"I was so elated, I just sprinted down," Hoyer said. "That was a play that Brandon and I talked about before, and we just had a good feeling about it going into the game. He made a tremendous catch. You watch the replay afterwards, and he really went out and got it and made a great catch."
Hoyer, like Edelman, said it just felt good to be on the field for extended playing time.
"You don't play all year, and to get in there, it's just fun," Hoyer said. "You get in there and start making plays. I hit a quick slant to Taylor, and after that, I felt the comfort level come back a little bit. Like I said, it's just fun to go out there and actually play."