Edelman comes up big again

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As he departed the field in Miami early last December with what would turn out to be a season-ending foot injury, Julian Edelman wasn’t Tom Brady’s primary receiving option.

Or second.

Or third.

Or fourth.

But just more than nine months later, it was Edelman, the former-college-quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-temporary-defensive-back-turned-receiver, who kept the New England Patriots' offense afloat during an otherwise forgettable night.

“Julian played well, made some tough catches and did a good job on punt returns,” coach Bill Belichick said following his team’s 13-10 win over the New York Jets on Thursday night. “He played hard like he always does, he’s a tough kid and I thought he made a lot of tough catches, too, in the second half.”

Edelman finished with a career-best 13 catches for the evening, bringing his season total to 20, one fewer than he had in all of 2012.

Although indications suggested the Patriots would be without top target Danny Amendola, who is currently dealing with a groin injury, it wasn’t until 90 minutes before kickoff that official word came out that Amendola would indeed be inactive.

It was at that point that Edelman vaulted to the top of the receiving corps, a first for the former seventh-round pick.

“I wasn’t even thinking about that,” Edelman said of taking on a new role as the top receiver. “Like I said, you’re just trying to think about beating your guy and getting open to catch the ball.”

And that’s exactly what Edelman was able to do on a night when his receiving counterparts struggled with ball security amid a driving second-half rain.

“It’s always a little harder when the rain comes, but we practice that in the spring, little bit of summer, you have those days and you try to take advantage of those opportunities, and we tried to do that tonight,” he said.

Edelman has taken advantage of his opportunity to finally develop a consistent -- and prominent -- offensive role. He worked harmoniously in tandem with Amendola during a Week 1 win, scoring twice and catching seven passes while weaving in and out of combination patterns with his fellow receiver.

But on Thursday, there was no Amendola, and at times Edelman appeared to be the one receiver Brady could trust.

It’s another step in a satisfying return to health for Edelman, who suffered a setback in the offseason during his recovery, delaying his return to the field until the early stages of training camp.

Timing is everything in passing offenses around the NFL, as it also can be in free agency. Edelman’s foot injury seemed to repel many potential suitors. He remained unsigned until the middle of April, at which point he received a one-year deal from the Patriots to return.

The incentive-laden nature of the deal makes 2013 a play-well-and-get-paid-well season for Edelman, who now needs just 10 more catches to reach the first of his contract incentives (a $30,000 bonus for 30 catches). Just two games into the season, Edelman is already more than a quarter of the way to the maximum incentive level of $250,000 for 70 or more catches in the season.

But that’s not Edelman’s focus right now, not as his team continues to deal with the absences of Amendola and tight end Rob Gronkowski.

The exact timetable for those players’ returns remains unclear, but what has become apparent is that in their absence it will be Edelman whom Brady will look to early and often as his go-to target, as was the case Thursday night.