Patriots

Julian Edelman to CSNNE after injury: 'I am relentless'

Julian Edelman to CSNNE after injury: 'I am relentless'

Last September, Tom Brady played the entire first half of the Patriots fourth preseason game. When Bill Belichick was asked about the risk of having a future Hall of Famer in harm's way with a slew of end-of-roster players, he replied, “You can’t take insurance out on players,” Belichick said. “You play football, you play football. I don’t know how you get better at playing football without playing football. You stand around and talk about it all day, I don’t think that really makes you a better player. At some point you’ve got to get out there and play.” 

Even though Brady was in a far different situation last year - he was about to begin serving his four game Deflategate suspension and wouldn't be needed until October - I can't imagine Bill Belichick's stance will be any different now that wide receiver Julian Edelman's been laid low by a non-contact knee injury that has the makings of a torn ACL. 

In a text message, Edelman promised he would be "relentless" regardless of the diagnosis, but had no comment on the injury. 

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That Edelman went down in a game that means nothing ushers in the conversation about playing key players in the preseason. We have it every year - we had it Thursday night on Boston Sports Tonight. I feel the same way after the loss of Edelman as I did before the injury: players play. 

Edelman could have just as easily been injured making a similar cut in the first quarter of the first regular season game. It wasn't like he was out there covering kicks or running routes over the middle against third-string guys trying to make the team late in the game. He made a hard cut and his knee gave out. 

It's a lamentable result either way. 

And it's going to have far-reaching impact on the Patriots offense. We've had the chicken-egg conversation about Edelman and Rob Gronkowski many times - which player is more important to the overall success of the Patriots offense. I believe it's Edelman and that's not just because of what occurred last season when the Patriots won the Super Bowl even though Gronk played just six games. 

Look back a year further to 2015. The Patriots were 9-0 after they beat the Giants in November, but they lost Edelman in that game with a broken foot. 

The team went 3-4 the rest of the way and their third-down conversion rate went from 48.7 percent with Edelman in the lineup down to 32 percent over the final seven games. 

Even though he returned for the playoffs, Edelman was still struggling with the foot and needed offseason surgery to repair it. They missed his ability to uncover during the 20-18 AFC Championship loss at Denver. 

He has been the straw the stirs the drink for the Patriots offense since 2013. The Patriots have other available options for Brady with Edelman down - Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan weren't around in 2015, not to mention downfield threat Brandin Cooks. 

But the chemistry between Brady and Edelman built over eight-plus seasons is unique. No player on their offense can replicate it. The Patriots also lose a little of their identity with Edelman down. He is one of the few wide receivers in the league that is the point of the spear in terms of toughness and attitude. Steve Smith brought it. Anquan Boldin brought it. Edelman brings it. His intensity and competitiveness can't be replicated. 

The last time the team was without Edelman, they went into their deepest offensive funk in several seasons. They'll figure out a way to get along without him. But his absence will have far-reaching impact.

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    Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

    Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

    FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

    But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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    In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

    He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

    Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

    "Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

    "I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

    Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

    Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

    "It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

    "I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

    Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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