Julian Edelman had countless big moments over the course of his 12-year career in the NFL. He caught the game-winning touchdown pass in one Super Bowl, had an all-time great reception in another, and was named the MVP of a third. He threw a touchdown in one of the most exciting playoff games of all time. He later added a pair of third down conversions to win the AFC in a hostile road environment in Kansas City.
He was a big-play receiver through and through, and when he announced his retirement earlier this month had a successful career to look back on.
One play stands out among the others as his favorite one, though. It was not one of those highlight-reel moments mentioned above, but a 21-yard reception to move the chains on a 3rd-and-14 versus the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl 49.
Going against the best defense of its era, the New England Patriots fell behind 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter and were in dire need of a momentum swing to keep their championship hopes alive. As usual, Edelman and quarterback Tom Brady were able to deliver:
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 in the game. A few plays later, fellow wide receiver Danny Amendola caught a 4-yard touchdown pass to bring New England within three points.
All of that and what eventually followed — Edelman catching the go-ahead touchdown and Malcolm Butler’s miraculous goal-line interception sealing the game for the Patriots — would probably not have happened without the former seventh-round draft pick holding onto the football.
“Tom hit me late across the middle and Kam Chancellor put a little heat on me and hit me hard. That whole week going into that game all we kept on hearing was the Legion of Boom, the No-Fly Zone, the this, the that. That was a cool moment when I knew I got his best and I was able to get up and go and then make a play in the next couple of plays like, ‘Hey, we’re here to play.’ We may not be the flashy skill position group, we’re not the Legion of Boom,” Edelman said during a recent appearance on the Pardon My Take podcast.
“That was my play that I love. That’s hard-nosed football right there. When I trained being a receiver it was always, ‘Can you make the catch over the middle?’ That was the catch over the middle in the biggest moment. That was a fun play.”
Playing in his second Super Bowl, Edelman was a pivotal part of New England’s game plan. With the Patriots trying to attack Seattle’s vaunted defense horizontally rather than vertically, his quickness in the intermediate area was crucial and allowed him to finish with nine catches for a game-leading 109 receiving yards as well as a touchdown.
The third down conversion midway through the fourth quarter was another example of that.
“It was X Stock Tin. I had the outside, I was the F, I had the 20-yard in-cut. And they were playing a P coverage, meaning they were dropping a guy. Tom was going to have time. They were giving eight defenders in the secondary basically,” Edelman said about the play.
“I was running late across the middle and I was 20 yards down field and I knew anytime you’re going late across the middle, especially that deep, you have to start thinking about that post safety. That’s their whole thing, they run that Cover 6. I’m going late across the middle, I look at Tom; I kind of saw Chancellor. So I knew — if you see the play I brace for the hit.”
Edelman was hit hard but got up quickly to gain additional yards after contact. That yardage was later wiped out — he was ruled down by contact — but it showed his mindset, even as he was playing through an injury.
While the speculation at the time was that he had suffered a concussion during the hit, especially being slow to get up on an ensuing play, Edelman pointed out that he actually hurt his hip on a punt return earlier in the quarter. On that third down play, however, none of it mattered: a play needed to be made, and it was.
“It was a big part of the game,” Edelman said. “That’s what you try to do. That’s why you lace them up. You dream for those moments.”