Julian Edelman finally hits paydirt

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Three weeks ago, the New England Patriots' Julian Edelman caught a punt, took off through the snow and sailed into the end zone for an apparent touchdown against the Chicago Bears.

He was so excited he leaped into the stands for congratulations from some New England fans.

Unfortunately for Edelman, the celebration was short-lived. The play was called back because of a penalty, forcing the sheepish Edelman to climb back onto the field from the stands with his touchdown taken away.

On Sunday, Edelman hauled in a punt from Miami's Brandon Fields at the Patriots' 6-yard line, bumped into teammate Devin McCourty, made a quick move to his right, eluded a tackler, started up the middle through a seam, cut back to the left and zipped untouched into the end zone for a touchdown.

Guess what was going through his mind as he crossed the goal line? Yup, the Chicago game.

"I'm not going to lie, I was actually thinking about that," Edelman said after the Patriots had closed the regular season with a 38-7 thumping of the Miami Dolphins. "I was thinking, 'I'm going to look like an idiot going up into the stands if there's a flag out there.' But fortunately we got the touchdown."

Indeed, there were no flags on the field, and Edelman jumped into the stands, where he was given a hero's welcome by ecstatic Patriots fans. The 94-yard return was the longest in franchise history, breaking the mark of 89 yards set by Mike Haynes in 1976.

"We had a middle return called and we knew we were going to get some chances this week with this punter because he was prone to outkick his coverage, and he gave us a shot," said Edelman. "The guys held their blocks and we executed the play. When I was going to put my foot in the ground and cut back, I knew we were going to hit the house right there."

It was a solid day for Edelman, who suffered through a somewhat disappointing season when compared to last season's rookie campaign.

Edelman, who was a quarterback at Kent State, was converted into a wide receiver and punt returner last year. He adapted well, hauling in 37 passes for 359 yards a year ago. He snagged six passes and scored two touchdowns in a 33-14 playoff loss to the Ravens.

This year, Edelman had fewer chances for receptions, and he dropped a few balls, too. He entered Sunday's game with only four catches for 14 yards, and exactly zero catches since the third game of the season.

On Sunday, with the Patriots already assured of the No. 1 seed in the AFC, Edelman had more of a chance.

Coach Bill Belichick elected to give Wes Welker the day off, so Edelman had more snaps as a wide receiver and responded with three catches for 72 yards.

He was especially visible on back-to-back plays in the first quarter. First he grabbed a pass good for 22 yards. On the next play, after Tom Brady faked the ball to him on an end-around, Edelman continued down the left sideline, caught a swing pass, banged off a few would-be tacklers and kept on going until he finally was brought down at the Miami 1-yard line.

New England scored on the next play for a 14-0 lead.

But Edelman's biggest impact was yet to come.

Steven Krasner is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.