FOXBOROUGH — Julian Edelman has hardly been an advocate of personal statistics and achievements. No matter how big a game the speedy receiver has, he stays true to the Patriot Way, always putting the team’s best interests ahead of his own.
On Sunday, Edelman caught nine passes for 65 yards in the Patriots’ 34-20 win against the Buffalo Bills, becoming the 10th Patriot to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in a season and just the third, joining Troy Brown and Wes Welker, to record a 100-catch season.
It was a performance that put Edelman in the same sentence with two of the finest receivers in franchise history, but he was quick to deflect the recognition.
“It’s cool and everything,” Edelman said. “But you really go out and you play for other things, like playing in the last game of the year and winning that game. And we put ourselves in an opportunity to go one step closer to that.”
The Patriots clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Edelman’s road to success has been a long, winding one.
The 5-foot-10-inch former Kent State quarterback was not even invited to the 2009 NFL combine, yet the Patriots drafted him in the seventh round anyway.
On his first day in minicamp as a punt returner, he muffed two punts.
But coach Bill Belichick’s confidence in Edelman never wavered.
Throughout most of his five-year career, Edelman had been caught in a logjam behind star-studded targets like Randy Moss and Welker.
And then there were the injuries, like the broken forearm he suffered in his rookie season, and the broken foot that cut his season short in 2012, requiring offseason surgery.
But this year, with rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins on board along with newcomer Danny Amendola, Edelman suddenly became the veteran of the receiving corps. He responded with by far the best season of his career, with 105 catches for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. And for the first time, he played in all 16 games.
“I don’t think there’s ever any question about Julian’s skills or his toughness or his competitiveness,” Belichick said. “This is the year he’s been able to stay on the field, and certainly his production has paralleled his time on the field. He’s always a tough guy you can count on from that standpoint, and this year he’s been healthy.”
When pressed to comment on the significance of his accomplishments, Edelman finally acquiesced, taking just a few seconds to enjoy the moment.
“A lot of things haven’t gone my way in the past,” Edelman said. “Playing behind somebody that was doing really well, whether it’s injuries, or not executing certain situations. It was kind of cool to get that today.”
Then, faster than Edelman could cut up field after hauling in a pass from Tom Brady, he realigned his focus to the team.
“More importantly, it was great to go out there and win in those conditions,” he said.
And the conditions were terrible.
The rain seemed to let up during the first half, only to come down harder as the game carried on.
Brady threw the ball just 24 times and completed 14 of his attempts, as the Patriots relied on LeGarrette Blount’s 189 rushing yards to pace the offense.
It was fitting that Edelman’s successful night came in conditions less than ideal for the passing game, a testament to the hard work he puts in year-round.
“I’m so proud of what Julian has done for our football team week in and week out,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “He’s just so reliable. With all the injuries we’ve been through, having guys in and out of the lineup, and I know this kid has prepared himself to be successful.
“He’s worked at it ever since he’s got here. And he’s had some tough breaks, unfortunately. But this year he was able to stay healthy and put together a great body of work and help our football team. I’m proud of him as a teammate, but even more proud of him as a friend.”