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Julian Edelman comes through again in clutch for Patriots

11.25.13 at 7:06 pm ET

As a free agent, he didn’t inspire the same passion as any of the other big names who were coming or going from Foxboro this past offseason. But Julian Edelman has had just a big an impact in 2013 as any one of the free agent moves that impacted the Patriots.

Edelman, who signed a one-year deal to come back to Foxboro after taking exactly one free-agent visit — the Giants — has been immense for the New England receiving corps this year. Through 11 games, he has a team-high 61 catches (tied for 11th in the league) for 610 yards and four touchdowns, all of which represent career-highs for the former college quarterback.

But it’s not just the numbers that are impressive — it’s how they’ve been compiled. Time and again on Sunday night, when the Patriots needed to move the chains, Brady went to Edelman. The former college quarterback responded with nine catches for 110 yards and a pair of touchdowns, his second two-touchdown game of the 2013 season. That stat line includes four of the 10 longest plays from scrimmage against the Broncos, with the capper coming on a 43-yard reception in the third-quarter where he got two Denver defenders to bite on a fake work himself into the open.

‘€œHe’€™s been so dependable and consistent all year for our team,’€ quarterback Tom Brady said of Edelman, who has accounted for 24 percent of all of Brady’s completions through 11 games. ‘€œHe’€™s been the one veteran player on our offense that’€™s been in there and has been around. He always does a great job. He’€™s tough, smart, disciplined. It’€™s fun to see him do well because he deserves it.’€

Which means that despite the resurgence from tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Shane Vereen and wide receiver Danny Amendola — and even though his numbers have taken a small hit since he started the season on a red-hot pace — Edelman figures to play a sizable role in the passing game going forward.

“[Sunday], my number was called a few times and I was able to have a couple opportunities and I just try to take advantage of them,” said Edelman. “A couple games back it was [Kenbrell Thompkins], [Aaron Dobson], Danny [Amendola.] That’€™s our job ‘€“ our job is to be able to get open and catch the football, and I was able to do that a few times.”

Edelman, who has seen 28 of his 61 catches go for a first down, not only has tremendous offensive value, but is really distinguished by his work as a punt returner. He’s averaged 11.7 yards per return over the course of the first 11 games, and has become one of the most consistent returners in the league the last few seasons — he has one of the best career averages in the history of the NFL when it comes to return yardage.

Against the Broncos, he had three returns for 39 yards, including a 20-yarder. He wasn’t immune to the fumble issues that plagued everyone on Sunday because of the wind and cold — he muffed a punt return of his own in the early going before corralling the ball.

The conditions made it a rough one for everyone.

“I fumbled a punt after I muffed one, so that’s not that good,” Edelman said. “[The wind had] a pretty decent effect in the kicking game, more so than the passing game. But I mean, both sides had to deal with it. I mean, we muffed one, so I’€™ll probably get yelled at for that one, so we’€™ll see.”

Even if he does hear it from the coach when it comes to post game film review, there’s the very real likelihood he’ll also hear some good things.

“Julian did a great job,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after the game. “First of all, he did a good job of handling the ball, especially in the third and fourth quarter there. Made a couple good runs with the ball in his hands, also got open, caught the ball. The end route he got there gave us the field position in the overtime, it was a big play.

“Julian is a tough competitor.”

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