FOXBOROUGH - A few weeks ago, Julian Edelman was a distraction. The Patriots wide receiver and return specialist made headlines when he was arrested and charged with indecent assault and battery for allegedly groping a woman at a Boston nightclub on Halloween night.
Last night, however, Edelman focused on his job, finding sanctuary on the gridiron at Gillette Stadium where he proved to be a key contributor on defense and special teams in last night’s 34-3 victory over the Chiefs.
“It’s been pretty challenging,’’ said Edelman, who spoke for the first time since he was released on personal recognizance after his arraignment, declining to discuss the specifics of his legal situation that will have him due back in court in January.
“All I can do is come out here and get away from everything else and focus on my job. And that’s what I’ve been doing.’’
Asked if it’s helped, Edelman replied, “It does.’’
Whether he was lining up in the dime coverage as an extra defensive back, playing at linebacker depth and taking on blockers twice his size, setting a hard edge on the perimeter to make a run-stopping tackle, or returning a third-quarter punt for a 72-yard touchdown, Edelman never seemed to be out of his element no matter what role he was asked to play.
“I loved him out there running around,’’ said linebacker Rob Ninkovich. “He had a great punt return and it’s great to see him playing on defense.’’
Edelman was pressed into service when the secondary was depleted by injuries. Edelman, who hadn’t played defense since he was a safety as a high school freshman, found himself thrown in the breach this week in practice in the dime package.
“You have to ask Coach [Bill] Belichick,’’ Edelman said, when asked how his switch to defense came about. “We were a little thin [in the secondary] and he asked me if I could do it, and I’m not going to say no to an opportunity.’’
After being inactive three weeks in a row, Edelman wasn’t about to let this opportunity slip, instead seizing it with gusto, drawing a holding penalty after getting pancaked by 6-foot-8-inch, 264-pound tight end Leonard Pope, making a nice open-field tackle on Jeremy Horne’s 5-yard end-around, and, of course, scoring on his 72-yard punt return.
“We held the gunners and the internal guys did a good job of blocking their guys,’’ said Edelman, who fielded Dustin Colquitt’s punt near at the New England 28, cut left to avoid Jalil Brown, then cut right and found a seam after Wes Welker’s seal block on Cory Greenwood. “As a punt returner, you’ve go to make one [guy] miss and get back to your return side and we executed the play well, so it was good to get one.’’
Edelman, who set a franchise record with a 94-yard punt return in the 2010 regular-season finale vs. the Dolphins Jan. 2, 2011, made the record books again as only the fourth player in team history with multiple punt returns for a touchdown. Edelman joined ranks with Troy Brown (3), Irving Fryar (2) and Mike Haynes (2).
“I did not know that,’’ Edelman said. “It’s a nice Snapple fact.’’
For Edelman, though, playing defense has been a new experience. One which has given him a newfound appreciation for how defensive backs prepare.
“DB, it’s tough because you got to do things going backwards,’’ he said. “You got to be fluid. Those guys are good and it’s tough.’’
Asked if he was prepared to remain on defense the remainder of the season, Edelman shrugged.
“I don’t know,’’ he said. “My thought is that I’m going to do whatever I can to help contribute to the team and if that’s to play offense, play defense, play special teams, that’s what I’m going to do.’’Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.