606 days, that is how long it took Julian Edelman to finally return to playing competitive, non-preseason football again. Over this time span, the veteran suffered and fought his way back from a season-ending ACL tear and also was forced to sit out four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing drugs – all while the New England Patriots’ wide receiver position underwent some drastic changes.
Edelman returning was therefore big for the team and for Tom Brady in particular. After all, the 32-year old offers a different skillset and chemistry with the quarterback than any of the other wideouts currently on the roster. During his return to the field yesterday against the Indianapolis Colts, this was visible right from the get-go: on the game’s very first play from scrimmage, Brady and Edelman connected on a quick nine-yard pass play.
It was the first of nine passes thrown his way – second most on the team behind only running back James White – and he caught seven of them for 57 yards. Even though the numbers do not necessarily stand out, they are reflective of how the Patriots view Edelman coming off his 20-month absence: he is still an integral part of the team’s offense and will see plenty of targets as one of Tom Brady’s most trusted teammates.
“Just good to have him out there,” Brady said after yesterday’s 38-24 win. “You know, I’m sure we all want it to be perfect every time we go out, but I was really happy to be out there with him. He’s a great player, and obviously, the more great players you have out there, the better we’re going to move the ball and score points. You know, I’ve been playing with Jules for a long time and really happy to have him out there healthy and having fun.”
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick echoed Brady’s remarks, even though he sounded a little less enthusiastic than his quarterback. “It’s good to have him back,” Belichick told reporters yesterday. “He had a role in the offense, certainly not a full one.” Even though his role might not yet have been a full one, Edelman still saw more offensive playing time than any skill position players not named Chris Hogan or Rob Gronkowski.
Overall, he was on the field for 48 of a possible 69 snaps on offense (70%) while also playing four snaps on special teams. Serving as New England’s punt returner, the former college quarterback ran back two kicks for a combined 20 yards. The statistics and playing time percentages are again not eye-popping but further proof that the Patriots feel comfortable in Edelman after his absence and are not scared of exposing him to the game’s physicality.
“We wanted to get him involved and he made some great plays,” Brady said after the game about the Patriots’ plan entering the contest. Edelman himself also knows that the game against Indianapolis is just the first step on the way back. “There’s some things that obviously we have to work on but it was good to get out there and catch some rocks and go out and make some plays and be with the fellas,” he said in his first post-game press conference since February 2017.
“I remember when I tore my ACL and I was sitting back and during the rehab, you’re just sitting there and can’t wait to run out of that tunnel. So it was great to get to be able to play with the fellas, it was awesome to get the team win.” continued Edelman when talking about his return to the field. “Obviously we could do a lot better but anytime you go ahead and beat a team in the conference, it’s always great, especially the Colts.”
The Patriots’ next chance to beat a team in the conference, the Kansas City Chiefs, comes in nine days. And if Edelman’s usage on Thursday night is an indication, he should be expected to see even more snaps and targets in week six against a team that currently owns a spotless 4-0 record. “We’ll see how it goes,” Belichick had to say about his future outlook. “We’ll figure it out next week.”
There is little doubt that the Edelman and company will do just that. They usually do.