New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman was at practice in Foxborough on Monday looking like Julian Edelman.
According to reports and video from the media portion of Monday’s session, Edelman appeared to be at full speed, making his signature cuts in drills and catching passes from quarterback Tom Brady, who also showed encouraging signs in stepping back and planting on the ankle he injured in the regular season finale at Miami.
Also present and accounted for at practice: offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer, wide receiver Danny Amendola, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, and defensive end Chandler Jones.
Bill Belichick is getting the band back together.
It’s Edelman, though, that represents the overall fortunes of these wounded Patriots as they prepare for the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC divisional playoff Saturday (4:35 p.m., CBS) at Gillette Stadium. The wide receiver hasn’t played since breaking his foot in the Week 10 win over the New York Giants. The Patriots went 3-4 without his services, throwing Brady’s offense, which had averaged 30.3 points through the first 10 weeks of the season, into a funk of sorts, averaging only 23.1 points per game down the stretch.
Of course, the Patriots won’t officially say if he’s playing Saturday (unless you count team owner Bob Kraft’s admission to Kristine Leahy at the Golden Globes). But he’s playing Saturday.
“I’m going to go full-throttle regardless, so if it goes, it goes,’’ Edelman said on Monday. “Of course, we’ll be smart. But if I suit up, we’ll be all right.’’
The Patriots have missed more than a reliable pass-catcher in Edelman’s absence. His ability to get open quickly should do drastic measures for an offensive line in shambles and the target of the ire of Patriots fans, as well as improve upon New England’s pathetic third-down conversions, during which the team went only 5-for-24 over the final two games against the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins.
“I don’t think any of that really matters at all,’’ Belichick said. “We haven’t played Kansas City, so it doesn’t matter what we did against somebody else or didn’t do against somebody else. It will all come down to how we match up and how we perform against the Chiefs. That’s really all we’re looking at. I don’t really care about how it all went in some other game.’’
Regardless, it wasn’t good. Brady had 18 touchdown passes with and without Edelman on the field, but he threw three more interceptions without his dependable teammate and saw his passing completion percentage dip from 69 to 59.2. Brady’s QB rating, which was 119.6 in September and 112.6 in October, dropped to 90.3 in November and 92.4 in the final full month of the season.
When targeting Edelman, Brady had a 113.5 passer rating, completing 71.8 percent of his passes.
“He’s a guy who wants to be as good as he can be at everything that we ask of him, so we’ll see how it goes this week,’’ Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “But I know those guys who haven’t been out there or have missed time, they’re all trying to do whatever they can to get healthy and be back as soon as they’re able to.’’
Just how healthy Edelman might be though could be the fuel for some debate. He’s been practicing with his team for the better part of a month, though he will reportedly wear a contraption on his foot. He wouldn’t divulge to reporters on Monday as to whether he was 100 percent, but how can anybody deem such a level if he hasn’t seen game action in two months?
Could he have played against the Jets or Dolphins? Maybe. Would his presence have given the Patriots a better shot at securing the No. 1 seed and thus avoiding a possible trip to Denver next weekend? Probably. Was it better to hold him out? Likely.
There’s a level of smoke-screening when it comes to Edelman’s health, but what else would you expect? You’re at a loss trying to figure out how effective Edelman can be against Kansas City? Imagine if you’re Andy Reid and the Chiefs.
“There’s no dipping the toe here,’’ Edelman said Monday with a phrase that might have gotten him benched if the Patriots were facing the Rex Ryan-led Buffalo Bills this weekend. “It’s diving right in.’’
This wasn’t the first time that Edelman reminded some of former Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker this season. Despite his dependability, Edelman had quite literally dropped the ball in the weeks leading up to his injury. He was eighth in the NFL with eight drops during the regular season, a 9.1 drop percentage that ranked among the highest among receivers with as many catches (61) as Edelman had this season.
You might remember that Brady’s first interception of the season came when Edelman bobbled a ball in Indianapolis, only to watch Colts safety Mike Adams walk it in for a touchdown. In facing a team with a plus-14 giveaway/takeaway differential in the Chiefs, such a scenario, with a player possibly not at 100 percent confidence, could prove drastic.
No worries, according to Edelman.
“I’m more focused than anxious,’’ he said. “Every year is different, but going in you have some experience about how these games are going to be and where you should be and I’m trying to take full advantage of going out and putting myself in the best position to help the team.’’
Julian Edelman looks like Julian Edelman again. And the Patriots look like the Patriots.
You’ve been warned.
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