Julian Edelman’s career in the NFL is the stuff of fairytales. Not only did he firmly establish himself in the league’s postseason record books as the New England Patriots’ number one wide receiver, he also was able to build a résumé worthy of Hall of Fame discussion despite entering the league as a draft day afterthought without a clear position.
An exciting 12 years later, he is ending his career as a Patriots legend: the team released Edelman on Monday afternoon — a move that was actually doing him a favor — and he announced his retirement a short time after.
With him stepping off the stage after a combined 156 regular season and playoff games as well as 738 catches, now is the perfect moment to stroll down memory lane and relive some of the moments that defined his career with the Patriots.
Wes Welker 2.0: 2018 vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Preseason Week 1)
Edelman’s first ever game in a Patriots uniform already featured a defining moment. In the second quarter of the team’s preseason opener in 2009 — less than four months after he was drafted 232nd overall — Edelman received a punt and ran it back 75 yards for a touchdown.
That play already showed his abilities in the kicking game, and, as head coach Bill Belichick noted during the game, that he could one day take over for Wes Welker:
The moment it all started... pic.twitter.com/YWHmK0uNBX— Pats Pulpit (@patspulpit) April 12, 2021
Edelman’s punt return was the biggest play of his day, but not the only one he made. He also led the Patriots with five catches that he took for 37 yards, and had a 24-yard kickoff return. It was an impressive debut performance.
A Valiant Effort: 2009 vs. Baltimore Ravens (Wild Card Playoffs)
Edelman’s rookie season was a bit more quiet than his preseason debut would suggest. He was inactive for five games during the regular season and played second fiddle on New England’s receiving corps. That said, he stepped up after Welker tore his ACL in the season finale versus the Houston Texans.
That day, the seventh-round pick caught 10 passes for 103 — the most productive game of his career up until that point.
He later followed up the contest with a two-touchdown performance in the Wild Card playoff round versus the Baltimore Ravens: serving as the Welker replacement, Edelman caught six passes for 44 yards. He was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise disappointing Patriots offense.
Mr. Punt Return: 2010 vs. Miami Dolphins (Week 17)
With Welker returning off his torn ACL in 2010 and playing an impressive season as New England’s go-to wide receiver, Edelman again was relegated to rotational duty on the offensive side of the ball in his second year in the system. That said, he did again prove his value in the kicking game — something the Miami Dolphins found out in the regular season finale that year:
2011: Edelman’s coming out party as he returns a 96 yard punt that still holds the record for the longest punt return in #Patriots history. pic.twitter.com/EXhR7eacEE— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) July 16, 2019
Julian Edelman, defensive back: 2011 vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Week 12)
Built around a reinvented two-tight offense, the 2011 Patriots were an offensive powerhouse. The other side of the ball, however, was not on the same level. In fact, New England’s struggles on defense forced the team to turn to a pair of nominal wide receivers — Edelman and Matthew Slater — to man the nickel and dime cornerback spots later during the year.
Edelman was first used on defense in Week 12 against Philadelphia, and registered a quarterback hit on a corner blitz as well as three combined tackles. One of those was a stop against scrambling quarterback Vince Young just short of the goal line.
Crashing the Jets: 2012 vs. New York Jets (Week 12)
The Patriots did not need Edelman on defense in 2012, but his diverse skillset was still on display throughout the season. The best example of that was a Thanksgiving showdown against the Jets. That’s right, we’re talking about the Buttfumble game.
While the most famous gluteal-related play in NFL history stole the show, it actually set up another big moment on the very next play: New York returned the ensuing kickoff, Devin McCourty forced a fumble while making a tackle, and Edelman caught the ball on the fly to return it to the end zone for another Patriots touchdown — the third within 52 seconds of game time.
Edelman’s big day did not end there, however. Later in this legendary second quarter, he caught a 56-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady.
69 Yards to Glory: 2014 vs. San Diego Chargers (Week 14)
By 2014, Edelman had left Wes Welker’s shadow in the Patriots offense and was well established as the team’s number one wide receiver — one that posted the best offensive season of his career up until that point. While his playoff run that season was outstanding, he also had some big moments during the regular season as well.
There was arguably none bigger than his Week 14 performance against the Chargers. With New England competing for the number one seed in the AFC playoff picture, a win on the road in what was a closely contested game was needed. Luckily, Edelman broke it wide open midway through the fourth quarter by catching a 69-yard scoring pass to give his team a 23-14 lead:
2014: Edelman’s 69 yard touchdown en route to New England’s HUGE Sunday Night Football win in San Diego. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/EEwh5u1yds— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) July 16, 2019
Edelman finished the game with eight catches for 141 yards and that touchdown.
The Throw: 2014 vs. Baltimore Ravens (Divisional Playoffs)
Five years after his postseason debut, Edelman and the Patriots again went up against the Ravens. With a ticket to the AFC title game on the line, the two teams played a game for the ages. Twice the visitors went up by 14 points, twice New England was able to come back.
Edelman, who finished the game with a modest stat-line by his standards (eight catches for 74 yards) played a pivotal role in tying the game at 28 in the third quarter
2014: I can’t believe I just noticed that this didn’t post but I NEED TO. Jules hits Danny Amendola on a double pass. This touchdown erased one of the #Patriots two fourteen point deficits in a 35-31 win over the Ravens. pic.twitter.com/fZeiTQlcK7— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) July 16, 2019
Edelman and Danny Amendola hooked up for a 51-yard touchdown connection that set the stage for the Patriots’ 35-31 victory. The play call was gutsy and, from the Ravens’ perspective, unexpected: Edelman, a former college quarterback, had not attempted a pass during the first five years of his career up until that point.
With the season on the line, however, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called his number. The first of eight passes thrown in his career, this one is the most memorable and one of the biggest moments in Patriots playoff history.
Legion of Big Plays: 2014 vs. Seattle Seahawks (Super Bowl 49)
Three weeks after the thriller versus Baltimore, New England found itself in another instant classic. Going against the best defense of its era, the team fell behind 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter and was in dire need of a positive play on 3rd-and-14. Once again Edelman delivered:
2014: One of Edelman’s huge third down conversations. This one comes on 3rd and 14 as he takes a huge hit from Kam Chancellor over the middle to help set up an Amendola touchdown. pic.twitter.com/CbqrWILaBw— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) July 16, 2019
Brady stepped up in the pocket and delivered a strike to Edelman. The wideout was able to hold onto the football despite a hard hit from Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor, moving the chains and keeping the Patriots’ hopes alive.
The catch was one of nine Edelman reeled in during Super Bowl 49. The ninth and final one, meanwhile, turned out to be the game-winner:
2014: Edelman toasts Tharold Simon on a little in and out on his game winning touchdown in Super Bowl 49. That gave the #Patriots the first title in a decade and started Dynasty 2.0 pic.twitter.com/aTnh2kyCwo— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) July 16, 2019
The Patriots had missed the pivot route on the previous drive — one that was capped by a Danny Amendola touchdown — but they came back and hit the pass with just over two minutes to go. Malcolm Butler’s late-game heroics are remembered most, but Edelman’s ability to make two crucial plays cannot go unremembered either.
He was big for his team in Super Bowl 49, despite going up against the vaunted “Legion of Boom.”
They’re saying it’s a catch: 2016 vs. Atlanta Falcons (Super Bowl 51)
The Patriots have been on the wrong end of circus catches in the Super Bowl before, but this time they were the ones capitalizing. Trying to rally back from a 28-3 deficit against the Falcons in the late third quarter, the team needed every big play it could get.
While others tipped the scales more dramatically in terms of win percentage, none was as emblematic of New England’s comeback as Edelman’s 23-yard catch on the game-tying series in the fourth quarter:
2016: The Greatest Catch in NFL History. I think we all know how this game went... #Patriots pic.twitter.com/1W8Z0d3Jph— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) July 16, 2019
Despite three Falcons defenders in the vicinity, the play could not be stopped. Edelman held onto the football, securing it just inches from falling incomplete. Atlanta, in a last-ditch effort to reverse momentum, challenged the play but it stood as called on the field. Complete catch, first down Patriots.
New England ended up taking the game to overtime before eventually winning 34-28. That game-winner by James White also involved Edelman: he blocked his man out of the way to help clear some space on the toss run to the perimeter.
Third down madness: 2018 vs. Kansas City Chiefs (AFC Championship)
New England was an underdog heading into the 2018 AFC title game at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs certainly made life hard on their visitors in the second half, with the game turning into a back-and-forth for the ages after a first 30 minutes that saw the Patriots dominate seemingly at will.
Just like Super Bowl 51, the game eventually headed to overtime. Just like Super Bowl 51, Edelman came up big in the clutch. On the game-winning drive, he caught two passes on 3rd-and-long — a continuation of what was already an unreal outing on third down up until that point:
2018: Edelman was arguably the best player on the field in AFC title game. Edelman caught every thing his way that night including several crucial third downs. One of his best games of his career. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/b2NqXPJnqe— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) July 16, 2019
Edelman was far from perfect that day — he almost muffed a punt that would have been recovered by Kansas City and later let a ball go through his hands for an interception — but he came through when New England needed him the most. Business as usual, if you will.
Most Valuable Pass Catcher: 2018 vs. Los Angeles Rams (Super Bowl 53)
The final game on our list might just be the pinnacle of Edelman’s career as a Patriot. He had better statistical outings than the 10-catch, 141-yarder versus the Rams. He made more noteworthy plays in equally big moments. However, never before or after might he have been as important to New England’s success as that day.
Los Angeles played a terrific defensive game to hold the high-powered Patriots to 13 points, but the team simply had no answer for Edelman:
2018: Arguably the best performance by a wide receiver in Super Bowl history as Edelman caught 10 passes for 141 yards. He won Super Bowl MVP en route to New England’s 6th title and Edelman’s 3rd ring. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/n43Dt83Zfk— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) July 16, 2019
Whether or not he truly deserved the MVP award over other candidates such as linebacker Kyle Van Noy or cornerback Stephon Gilmore can be debated. There is no doubt, however, that the Patriots would not have been able to control the game like they did had Edelman not routinely been able to shake free.
The score was close for much of the contest, but Edelman’s performance allowed New England to stay ahead of the curve and control the tempo and momentum. Eventually, it allowed them to get the points needed to win.
It was just one of just 156 career games for Edelman, but it was a defining moment nonetheless — just like the other 10 listed above.