Monday, November 19, 2012

Welcome to the NFL, Julian Edelman (it took you long enough!)

Welcome to the NFL, Julian Edelman. Sure, you’ve been in the league for a few years, done some good things for us Pats fans - even had a glorious and flowing mane of hair for a bit- but, as far as Patriots Nation ® was concerned, up until the Pats 59-24 blowout of The Colts, you were the consistently injured guy who was suddenly gunning for our beloved, suddenly butter-fingered, Wes Welker’s job at the start of the season. And that’s a no-no, pal.

Then you ran a punt back for a TD, caught a TD, rushed 47 yards on the Pat’s first successful trick play in what seems like eons, and almost brought another Punt to the house until Colts punter Pat McAfee did his best Arn Anderson impression, spine-busting you out of bounds.

It’s okay though, no one’s perfect, man. Not even Welker.  But to be honest, we didn’t think you had it in you. There were glimmers of hope over the past couple of seasons, including that 109 yard receiving performance against Houston after Wes’s ACL and MCL rolled up in his leg like window shades in 2009. That gave us hope. Then the following year you grew out your hair into a wildman motif, usurping Brady’s own 2011 doo for number one spot on the most-ridiculous-hairstyle-by-a-grown-man-on-the-Pats-roster awards list*, and it turned out to be your only contribution. For whatever reason, you were something of an afterthought that year outside of a Punt return TD against Miami. The next year you did your best Troy Brown impression, and played a bit of corner, going as far as to force a fumble in the AFC championship game - attaboy Julian. Attaboy.

So that brings us to 2012. And...You're taking snaps in the slot in the season opener against the Titans? Uh, pal? That’s sorta like Welker’s reserved parking spot. Seriously it wouldn’t surprise me if Wes Welker’s bedsheets have a giant Y (Y being the technical term for a slot-receiver in most football offenses) on them.  While probably just an early season misnomer - likely seeing if Edelman was finally ready for prime time - the sports media obviously took it to mean that Welker was on the outs with Pats management.

In truth, Welker had been a bit of a naughty boy in the offseason. The Napoleonic complex that drives him play with a chip on his shoulder (and to do hair plug commercials...) patched itself directly into Welker’s twitter feed, posting a few passive aggressive tweets about his less than rosy contract situation. This was not the Patriot Way ®, and worse, this dispute came mere months after Welker dropped what would have been the game winning first down in the Super Bowl. Welker, going on his 10th season playing a position where his value is measured by the fact that he’s brutalizing his body to make tough catches, was now on a team that included the two headed dragon of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Herndendez, a new receiver in Brandon Lloyd, and a spry running back who looked to maybe, possibly be the real deal. The leverage in this situation did not belong to Welker in any way shape or form.  just look at your shoes and walk on home, Charlie Brown.

The next game against Arizona, Edelman started - again -  and eventually ended up sharing the field with Welker following a particularly brutal high-ankle sprain to Aaron Hernandez. Edelman had a respectable 50 yards receiving (Welker had 95), and then injured his hand against Baltimore the next week. What the frack Edelman?

During the recovery from his “hand injury”, Welker re-solidified himself as the craziest, bravest, toughest, rootinest, tootinest, slot receiver in the NFL - 10th year who? - . Any controversy about snap distribution, or Welker being punished or phased out in the off season was put to the rest to the soothing tune of 890 yards receiving thus far. Though the man is selling his house, so who knows.

With Edelman back on the field Sunday against The Colts, it was interesting to see if the two would co-exist. And they did. Welker nabbed 7 receptions for 80 yards, Edelman 5 receptions for 58. Edelman certainly won the intangible battle, with the punt return TD, reverse run, and TD catch - all typically plays we’d associate with Welker-designed plays in past seasons. It’s entirely possible that Edelman just had the hot hand, and it’s also possible the Pats are attempting to give Welker’s body - the team’s workhorse for the last half-decade -  a break. Who knows?

We do know that Belichick is high on Edelman, and continuously finds ways to utilize him, be it at receiver, scat-back, defensive back, or returning punts. The Hoodie loves the guy, to be honest, before last night’s coming out party, most fans thought Bill was a bit...iffy on that one.

It’s also important to note that we haven’t seen the Patriots offensive as it was designed to be since week 1. Hernandez got hurt in week 2, so Welker and or Edelman likely took several snaps intended for him, then Hernandez came back when Edelman was hurt, and now Edelman is back and Hernandez is out again. Couple this with The Gronkster’s broken forearm, and it’s likely we’ll never see exactly what the Pats offense intended to do - and with what specific personnel - this season.

Not that it matters. The Patriots are - again - 1st in points, 1st in yards, and in the top five in both passing yards and rushing yards (which is a new one). Regardless of who’s catching balls, whatever it is they’re doing is working, and working well. There’s a plethora of weapons on this Patriots team as Brady and Welker enter the twilight years of their respective careers.  

In a perfect world, Welker would be resigned, Edelman would be pitching relief, and Welker would finish his career in New England with every meaningful receiving record and a reasonable contract that will pay the man for his past contributions to the team without putting the team into salary cap hell. It all hopefully culminating in Brady, Belichick, Welker, and maybe Wilfork all riding off into the sunset several years down the road after a Superbowl victory. A Super Bowl victory which has managed to elude Brady, Welker, Wilfork, Belichick and the modern era of a Patriots that was ushered in when the organization traded for Randy Moss and Wes Welker in the offseason prior to the 2007 season- and has zero championships to show for it’s unparalleled success.

But back to Julian, the heir apparent to The Welker throne. If things go pear shaped, and Welker is jettisoned, in 3-4 years we could have Ryan Mallett zipping the rock into Edelman’s bread basket via a crossing route on a 3rd and six, a proverbial cover song of the style of play that have made Brady and Welker the best bromance in Boston sports.

It’s clear that a changing of the guard is imminent in New England, and Edelman was very possibly the last one through the door. As current fans grew up cherishing Brady, McGinest, Bruschi, Brown, Dillon, Faulk, and Branch, The Tuck, The Snow Bowl, and 18-1,  Our children will learn the legends of Ridley, Gronk, Hernandez, Jones, Hightower, and yes, Edelman, whose own legend began on 4th and 15 with 12 minutes to go in the 2nd quarter against The Colts, who are a whole other story.

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