FOXBOROUGH — It was eventually going to happen. Every great thing eventually comes to an end.
What’s remarkable, though, about Julian Edelman’s ascension to the New England Patriots’ team leader is that it has happened while Tom Brady was still at quarterback and the Patriots are still winning.
Brady was unhappy again on Sunday. Winning on national television over a good team isn’t as enjoyable as it once was and last night’s win over the Cowboys, 13-9, was every bit as ugly offensively as the score.
Brady’s got C-level weapons and isn’t afraid to let us know it.
But enough with bashing the greatest quarterback that ever lived, who appears to be in his final go-round with the NFL’s greatest dynasty. Let’s talk about the good stuff percolating at 1 Patriot Place.
That’s Edelman carrying this team, particularly the offense, on his shoulders while Patriots fans wait for offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia to put his finishing touches on a group that might be coming together.
Rookie wide receivers Jakobi Meyers (4 catches, 74 yards) and N’Keal Harry (first career touchdown), got their days in the sun — albeit a blistering, windy, three-hour rainstorm. Both made some big plays and gave the semi-anemic offense much-needed production.
But like a lot of days here in Foxborough, or other places like East Rutherford, Atlanta or Philadelphia, the Patriots successes seem to be centering around Edelman.
Not only did he kill it on the stats sheet — he is top five in the NFL in receptions (76) and top 20 in receiving yards (809) — with another eight reception, 93-yard outing last night, but he’s coming up big when Brady is most desperate.
We know defining Edelman by statistics really shortchanges his role on this team. His best work always has been in the middle of the field and moving the chains.
It’s also where the most bruises to your body can be found.
Most people thought the best wide receiver in the game was on Dallas, a man by the name of Amari Cooper. Where was he when his team needed him most?
Two targets. Zero catches. Zero yards.
Edelman hasn’t seen those numbers next to his name since he was second or third fiddle to Wes Welker in 2012.
And I’ve got news for Mr. Cooper. Edelman is drawing two defenders on every play, sometimes three. Yet the plays, especially in the fourth quarter, are there.
With credit to Meyers and Harry, Edelman was Brady’s main guy.
In the third quarter, facing a 3rd-and-20, Brady eventually found Edelman for 20 yards and two inches.
It didn’t end up in a score, but in a game like this, with field goals and defense galore, when field position rules, it was huge.
And the best catch of the game also ended up taking two more minutes of the clock late in the fourth quarter, a 23-yarder, with Edelman laying out, to the Dallas’ 41.
“There has never been a guy that I have played with (that is) tougher than Julian,” said another Patriots leader, special teams sensation Matthew Slater, who had a blocked punt which led to the game’s only touchdown.
“He shows that week after week. I really appreciate that guy you hinted at. He’s not 100 percent, but he just finds a way to will himself to get out there. Sometimes I don’t know how he does it.”
Edelman’s recent history as a playoff performer (13 games, 106 catches, 1,336 yards) is epic, and he was justly rewarded with an Super Bowl MVP trophy last February.
His fourth quarter and overtime against the Chiefs, in the AFC Championship, was every bit as impressive as Brady’s.
But things have changed.
Something isn’t right with Brady, be it his surrounding cast outside of Edelman or the guys blocking for him.
There is nothing wrong with Edelman. He has never been better. And his ugly little routes and chain-moving catches have become this franchise’s new calling card.
Meet the new face of your franchise. He’s earned it.
You can email Bill Burt at email@example.com.