FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On the night when Wes Welker returned to Gillette Stadium for the first time as a member of the Denver Broncos, it was another receiver who often operates out of the slot who shined brightest.
Julian Edelman, the lone holdover from the New England Patriots' wide-receiver corps who had a reception last season, had his finest game of 2013, totaling 110 yards on nine catches, including two for touchdowns.
For perspective, the dynamic trio of Broncos wide receivers -- Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker-- combined for just nine catches, 77 yards and a single score on a chilly, windy New England night.
Beyond his receiving efforts, Edelman returned three punt returns for 39 yards, including a 20-yarder.
“Julian did a great job,” coach Bill Belichick said. “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.”
The narrative of Edelman coming through for the Patriots this season has become almost commonplace, as he’s up to 61 catches, a career high and tied for 11th in the NFL with Dez Bryant and Jordy Nelson, names many associate with descriptors such as "elite."
“He’s been so dependable and consistent all year for our team,” quarterback Tom Brady said of Edelman. “He’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.”
Edelman, the former college quarterback who generated minimal interest in free agency this offseason, is playing on a one-year, incentive-laden deal that carries a maximum value of just over $1 million. He’s well on his way to hitting his maximum incentives, as he needs just nine more catches to earn a $250,000 bonus.
But he has proven time and time again this season that his value to this offense is difficult to quantify.
"He’s been a good receiver," Welker said. "I've told a lot of people that he’s a good player. People are finally starting to take notice."
On few nights has that been more apparent than it was on Sunday, as Edelman was the star receiver in a game featuring the aforementioned trio of Broncos wideouts, as well as Danny Amendola, the free-agent acquisition who many envisioned would replicate Welker’s role in New England.
Edelman, true to form, remained humble following his effort.
“You know, I haven’t even thought about it,” he said. “Today, my number was called a few times and I was able to have to some opportunities and I just tried to take advantage of them.”