The Patriots are headed to the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons, but they’ll participate in this postseason without Julian Edelman.
Edelman, who recently scored four touchdowns in a two-game stretch and is second in the NFL with a 15.5-yard average on punt returns, was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, two days after suffering a foot injury against the Dolphins.
The move ends the season for Edelman, who has been with the Patriots for four years, and could potentially cloud his future with the team, since he’s in the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
“He’s worked hard. Julian is a solid, solid guy,’’ coach Bill Belichick said on a conference call. “He works hard, very good conditioned athlete. He’s versatile and he’s done a number of different things for us.’’
Especially recently. The injury comes at a tough time for Edelman, who had been playing his best football as a Patriot. He had a career-high 222 yards of total offense in a 59-24 win over the Colts Nov. 18, scoring touchdowns on a 2-yard reception and a 68-yard punt return. The next game, four days later on Thanksgiving against the Jets, Edelman added two more touchdowns, one receiving (56 yards) and another on a 22-yard special teams fumble return.
But he left the Jets game with a concussion after getting hit hard on an end-around, and did not return. He practiced in a limited capacity after the team returned from the Thanksgiving break and was listed as questionable for the Miami game. He was back on the field Sunday, though, catching one pass for 13 yards and returning two punts for 25 yards before getting hurt again.
Edelman was spotted after the Dolphins game in a walking boot and carrying crutches. He was not available for interviews. Now he won’t be available to the Patriots for the rest of the season, starting with Monday night’s prime-time home game against the 11-1 Houston Texans.
Drafted in 2009 out of Kent State in the seventh round (he was a college quarterback), Edelman has done a little bit of everything in his four years in Foxborough. Edelman’s best season, at least based on statistics, was as a rookie, when he caught 37 passes for 359 yards and a touchdown. This season, he had 21 catches for 235 yards and three scores. In four seasons, Edelman has 69 receptions for 714 yards and four touchdowns.
He also has been used in the running game (12 career carries for 72 yards), as a defensive back (22 career tackles), and has been a constant as a punt returner, scoring a touchdown in each of the past three seasons, including a 94-yarder in 2010, the longest punt return in franchise history. The three touchdowns match Troy Brown for the team record.
“Julian’s had an opportunity to contribute offensively and in the kicking game in the games that he’s been able to play in,’’ Belichick said.
With Edelman done for the season, the Patriots announced the signing of receiver Donté Stallworth, who was cut by the team in training camp. Stallworth, a nine-year veteran, spent the 2007 season with the Patriots, when he caught 46 passes for 697 yards and three touchdowns. He’ll provide depth for a receiving corps that is also without tight end Rob Gronkowski (forearm) for a few more weeks.