While tight end Rob Gronkowski is taking the spotlight, and quarterback Tom Brady is the undisputed leader of the team, New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman quietly touched the ball 12 times, the third highest mark in his career.
Edelman is in the midst of a six-game streak where he's touched the ball eight or more times. He's never had more than two-straight games with eight or more touches in his career. Over that time frame, he's averaged 9.5 touches for 107.5 yards per game, and 0.5 touchdowns. This includes playoff matches against the vaunted Legion of Boom secondary.
He picked up eight first downs against the Steelers, tying Falcons receiver Julio Jones and Chargers receiver Keenan Allen for most in the league by a wide receiver. He offers Brady a safety blanket and a consistent threat to pick up yards after the catch.
Can you think of Edelman standing out against the Steelers? His first recognized catch didn't come until the last play of the first quarter. His second touch came immediately afterwards on an end-around for a first down. He collected nondescript receptions that moved the sticks, but he doesn't have an Antonio Brown-esque 33 yard reception down the field.
That alone is why Edelman won't be recognized on a national stage: the big plays. Those go to Gronk, and to Gronk goes the headlines. Edelman will pick up 8, 9, 10 yards at a time, move the chains, line up, and catch the next pass for another 8, 9, or 10 yards.
This play is quintessential Edelman. He makes the catch, fights for yards after the catch, and move the chains. The Patriots were able to drain two minutes off the clock after this play, putting the game out of the Steelers reach. This won't make headlines, but it iced the game for the Patriots.
Over the past ten games, Edelman has averaged 9.1 touches for 95.2 yards per game. Extrapolate that over the course of a season and that's 145 receptions and 1,520 yards.
What more does he have to do to earn that #1 receiver tag?
Edelman isn't just ready to shed his (incorrect) label of being just a slot receiver. He's already exploded as one of the most dangerous receivers in the entire league.