FOXBORO – The “putting on the shirt” portion of Julian Edelman’s postgame routine looked anything but routine.
His left arm, it wasn’t moving so good.
That’s thanks to the shoulder injury he sustained at some point during this season when he’s carried the bulk of the Patriots offensive burden on his 33-year-old back – 112 targets, 76 catches, 809 yards and four touchdowns.
I asked him after the game how he’s feeling.
“I feel, ya know, hey. It’s November,” he explained. “Everybody feels a little banged up.
To put in perspective how much Edelman’s meant to the Patriots offense, the team’s three top running backs – Sony Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead – have combined for 880 yards rushing through 11 games. In the passing game, White is second in receptions with 49. Phillip Dorsett is third with 26. The tight end position has contributed 24 catches through 11 games.
On Sunday, the Patriots were without Dorsett (concussion) and Mohamed Sanu (ankle). White had one catch. He lost 6 yards on it. Rex Burkhead had two catches for 14 yards. The tight ends were represented by Matt LaCosse’s one catch for 5 yards.
Edelman’s been a one-man gang and he did his damage to the Cowboys on Sunday – 12 targets, eight catches, 93-yards – with one arm. The difficulty he had getting his arm up was obvious. Any throw above his chest, he tried to cradle with a backhand stab. Anything he could slide to pull in, he was fine.
There were a few of those and they were critical. Not because they resulted in points. For the Patriots, this game wasn’t as much about scoring points, necessarily, as it was about continually making it hard on the Cowboys to get in position to make a run. It was about field position and Edelman helped them tilt the field significantly on two plays in particular.
The first was a third-and-20 from their own 29 early in the second half. The Patriots, leading 10-6, had gone three-and-out on their first drive after the break. After a Shaq Mason hold, they looked like they were about to do it again.
But when the Patriots really needed a conversion – and the yards that came with it – Tom Brady bought time until Edelman uncovered and delivered a dart to Edelman right at the line to gain where he made a sliding catch for the first down. Three plays later, the Patriots punted and the Cowboys were taking over at their 28.
And three plays later, when the Cowboys were facing fourth-and-1 at their own 37? Dallas punted. Even though they have the highest-paid back in football. Even though the New England offense was struggling mightily. It was a juncture that begged for boldness. Dallas kicked.
Edelman’s other big catch came soon after Dallas closed to 13-9 with 6:08 remaining. The Patriots needed to bleed the clock and get out of their own end of the field. On a second-and-10 with 4:52 left, Edelman got free down the right side and hauled in a pass that turned into the dagger – a 23-yard sliding catch that put New England at the Dallas 41. Three plays later, Jake Bailey punted and the Cowboys took over at their own 8 with 2:38 left.
They weren’t going any 92 yards to score a touchdown on this day when the weather had unnerved them and their head coach was turtling.
Some teams have the belly for dealing with adversity. Most don’t. The Patriots have it in spades. Annually.
“That’s who we strive to be is a mentally and physically tough team,” said Edelman. “Our coaches do a great job preparing is. That’s part of them doing what they do. Bringing in guys that can play. I think it also comes from practice. When we have good weeks of practice, good things happen, it usually translates. It doesn’t’ necessarily translate as much as you want it to but you see little things here and little things there.”
One of the little things, actually a big thing is preparing to deal with the heinous weather both teams were playing in.
Asked if the weather was an advantage, Edelman smiled.
“I don’t think we like playing in it,” he corrected. “I’d rather play in snow. It’s tough when it’s wet and cold and slick but we do practice in the elements. We live in New England and around here … I saw a referee with some suntan lotion on his nose out there today and I said, ‘Buddy, we haven’t seen the sun in a month.’ “
In short, you get used to being uncomfortable. And you deliver anyway.