FOXBOROUGH — Vince Wilfork, pacing the sideline with his fellow Patriots defensive linemen, in that one moment felt the same shock that coursed through packed Gillette Stadium as if it were charged by a 100,000-volt power line. There in the clamor of what initially unfolded as a routine first-down play at midfield, Julian Edelman had the ball in his hands, his right arm cocked, his eye fixed on throwing a deep ball to a racing Danny Amendola.
Suddenly, all the pages of the playbook were on fire, to the surprise and dismay of everyone, even including some of the hometown helmeted help. Edelman, heretofore New England’s crafty receiver and daring kick returner, was about to add “gunslinging quarterback’’ to his résumé with the very first pass of his NFL career.
“I was like, ‘Holy crap, we are really doing it!’ ’’ said an animated Wilfork, recalling his surprise Saturday when Edelman’s 51-yard third-quarter touchdown pass to Amendola became the signature moment in the Patriots’ mesmerizing 35-31 playoff victory over the Ravens. “And we did it. It worked to a T. You couldn’t draw it up any better.’’
On a day when the typically buttoned-down, exacting Patriots turned the playbook into a bag of devilish tricks, the pass play triggered by Edelman will stand as their most memorable bit of chicanery. Coach Bill Belichick also flummoxed the Ravens with a handful of quick substitutions and ineligible receivers in the second half — what Ravens coach John Harbaugh labeled “clearly deception.’’
But the Tom Brady-to-Edelman-to-Amendola option pass was the equivalent of a three-card monte trick, the Patriots snatching the game from the Ravens the way curbside scam artists scoop cash off a card table from stammering Times Square tourists.
Not that the playoffs, historically, have been absent such sleight-of-hand hijinks.
On Jan. 8, 2000, there was the Music City Miracle in Nashville, the Titans upending the Bills, 22-16, with a razzle-dazzle kickoff return in the final seconds. Kevin Dyson dashed 75 yards for the winning TD after Titans tight end Frank Wycheck broke form on the return and hit Dyson with a breakaway lateral.
“Ridiculous,’’ bemoaned Bills defensive end Marcellus Wiley moments after the abrupt, devastating defeat. “This is the worst football feeling I ever had.’’
A more direct comparison to Edelman’s pass Saturday, in part because the temperature dipped to 12 degrees at Foxborough in the second half, would be the legendary Ice Bowl on Dec. 31, 1967, that had the Packers and Cowboys battling at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field with the temperature a numbing minus-17.
The Packers won the NFL title game in the final seconds on a quarterback sneak by the legendary Bart Starr. But earlier in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys grabbed the lead when QB Don Meredith relayed straight to his left, setting up halfback Dan Reeves to deliver a 50-yard TD pass to Lance Rentzel.
Similar to how the Ravens locked in on tackling Edelman once Brady passed to him, the Green Bay secondary gave up the thought of a deep ball once Meredith connected with Reeves. Rentzel was left wide open for Reeves to deliver the “gotcha’’ punch.
“Both the safety and the corner came up on the play,’’ Reeves told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King years later. “That’s the reason we had it in there. We didn’t feel like they would expect us to throw it going to my left, and it was wide open. Lance was wide open. It would have been kind of embarrassing if I hadn’t gotten it to him.’’
The play Saturday began with Brady taking the shotgun snap on first and 10 at the New England 49. Trailing, 28-21, the Patriots were desperate to get back even with the Ravens. Brady took the snap, pivoted to his left, and zipped an overhand relay some 10 yards on a slight diagonal left, no one was near Edelman at the 44 as he collected it.
“Tom made a good throw back toward me,’’ said Edelman, whose last pass came in 2008 when he fired 13 TDs as Kent State’s No. 1 quarterback. “That can be a tough throw sometimes, you gotta get it out and he put it right where I could catch it.’’
Edelman stepped up 2 yards, to his 46, with Amendola racing down the left sideline after leaving his cover, cornerback Lardarius Webb, in his wake. When Amendola cradled the pass in his hands at the Baltimore 19, Webb was nearly 10 yards behind in pursuit and Anthony Levine too late to race across to prevent Amendola from crossing the goal line.
“I’m not going to lie, I thought I overthrew it,’’ said Edelman, noting how the pass felt when it left his right hand. “But Amendola, he was on fire and he was able to run under it. He made me look good.’’
Edelman and Brady have kidded back and forth over the years about Edelman’s pass-throwing prowess. A late growth spurt led Edelman eventually to the top signal-caller’s role at Woodside High School, just south of San Francisco. His success there failed to entice major colleges, but Edelman found a scholarship, and more on-field success, at the nearby College of San Mateo. By the end of one season, his passing and running had a number of better schools interested, including Kent State.
“Kent called and said, ‘We want you and we want you now!’ ’’ Edelman’s father noted to the Globe just this time a year ago when his son turned in a career season primarily as Brady’s slot target and kick-return specialist. “So we figured, let’s get up there and learn how to play in the cold.’’
As he basked in the warmth of Saturday’s win and enjoyed the afterglow of his money pass to Amendola, Edelman kidded with reporters that he had dreamed of tossing a TD pass in the NFL since he “was about 8 years old.’’
Some 20 years later, how did it feel?
“Pretty good,’’ he said with a smile. “We dialed it up a few times in practice against another coverage they were giving us and we kept on seeing that coverage [Saturday], so we were able to get it called. It was a fun play and I’m happy it got executed, because it means I got a life to maybe throw again.’’