Julian Edelman gave Patriots critical boost

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots follow their humble leader, coach Bill Belichick, when it comes to discussing individual statistics and accolades: Team success trumps it all.

Few players are as quick to criticize themselves and as willing to turn the attention toward the team when things go in their favor as wide receiver Julian Edelman, who became just the third player in franchise history to record 100 catches in a season.

After Sunday's 34-20 win over Buffalo, when assessing what the accomplishment meant to him, Edelman started down a familiar path.

“It’s cool and everything, but you really go out and you play for other things,” he said. “Like playing in the last game of the year and winning that game, and we’ve put ourselves in an opportunity to go one step closer to that.”

But, albeit briefly, Edelman opened up shortly after that, discussing the significance of his remarkable season.

105 catches, 1,056 yards, six touchdowns. All career highs.

And this by a player who generated hardly any interest in free agency, returning to the Patriots on a one-year deal and with many expecting a rotational role in the receiving corps.

That’s proven to be far from the case, as Edelman has emerged as a leader and top target for quarterback Tom Brady, capping off his regular season with a team-high nine catches for 65 yards.

“It’s definitely kind of cool, just with the road, it’s been a crazy road, but it’s definitely been kind of cool,” Edelman conceded.

“A lot of things haven’t gone my way in the past, you know, playing behind someone that’s doing really well, or whether it’s injuries or not executing certain situations, but it was kind of cool to get that today, but more importantly it was definitely great to go out there and win in those conditions,” Edelman said, referring to playing behind such weapons as Wes Welker and enduring a foot injury that cut his 2012 season short.

The former college quarterback has successfully transitioned into an offensive catalyst for the Patriots, largely through hard work. He’s been an offseason award winner in the past and it's a rare day when a teammate arrives to work earlier than Edelman.

The process of evolving as a player has coincided with the process of learning how to improve in any way he can.

“I don’t want to take anything away from this win tonight, but guys that played here in the past like Welk [Wes Welker], Randy [Moss], and then Tom Brady, he’s helped me a lot,” Edelman said. “Being a professional and going out there and learning how to deal with the offseason, learning that there is no offseason, it’s about getting better and coming into camp in shape and coming into camp ready.”

Edelman did exactly that, recovering from the broken foot in the offseason but working his way back into shape for the start of training camp.

During a year that the Patriots have needed passing-game weapons perhaps more than any other since Brady became quarterback, Edelman has risen to the challenge.

It’s been a long, crazy road indeed for Edelman, but one thing is clear: The Patriots wouldn’t be where they are if not for his meteoric rise.