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Analysis/reaction: Chiefs-Patriots

Posted Nov 22, 2011

Julian Edelman's versatility was emblematic of New England's 34-3 win over Kansas City Monday night.

FOXBOROUGH – Julian Edelman has been quiet in his third year.

Hasn’t seen much action at wide receiver, where he made an immediate impact as a rookie in 2009.

Was injured for a spell and missed time, just like in each of the previous two seasons.

Hadn’t really done much to build off his kick and punt return duties, a role which he grew into toward the end of last year, when he was among the league leaders in punt returns.

He could be forgiven, therefore, if he felt thankful just to have a job in the NFL.

So, when he saw a few snaps at nickel corner in mop-up time last week against the Jets, it appeared to be simply out of desperation after an already-depleted Patriots secondary lost starting left cornerback Devin McCourty to a shoulder injury.

But then there was Edelman in the Patriots secondary again on the first series of the game against Kansas City on Monday night. He played there throughout the evening – as well as on special teams – helping ignite a lackluster Patriots defense with his buoyant enthusiasm.

Edelman threw his body around with reckless abandon on defense, registering a solo tackle for the second week in a row, and drawing a critical holding penalty against the Chiefs, nullifying a Kansas City first-down.

“It’s definitely a new experience,” Edelman admitted at his locker afterward, speaking about his newfound role as New England’s Swiss Army knife, “but whatever the coaches ask me to do, I’m going to try to do my best.”

When the Patriots coaching staff approached Edelman about playing defense, he didn’t take it as a slight against his offensive or special teams abilities.

He viewed it as an unexpected gift.

“I just kind of said, ‘OK, let’s go. Let’s ride.’ It’s another opportunity. In this league,” a philosophical Edelman remarked, “you have to take advantage of opportunities. I have to continue to get better every day and work hard. That’s how I took it.

“It’s been a little crazy, but I’m glad to get out there and get the win today.”

That Edelman has not looked entirely uncomfortable as a defender should not be underestimated. This, after all, is a young man who, just three years ago was playing college quarterback at Kent State. He only just started playing receiver and returning kicks in 2009, after the Patriots drafted him.

It’s a testament not only to his athletic ability and intelligence as a player, but also to the support he’s receiving from his teammates and coaches as he makes yet another positional transition.

“Coaches are helping me, guys are out there lining me up,” continued Edelman. “We’ve practiced the scheme, we walk through it, I’m in those [defensive] meetings. Then, Jerod Mayo helping me out, all the guys – Phil Adams, [Kyle] Arrington, [Antwaun] Molden, Dig (safety James Ihedigbo) – they’re all out there helping me out. It was definitely a team effort helping me get out there.”

It was his electrifying 72-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter, though, that punctuated Edelman’s overall performance and return to the bright lights of center stage. With the Patriots vice players (outside blockers) handling Kansas City’s gunners and the inside blockers sealing their men, a crooked alley opened up on the right side of New England’s return formation. Edelman made a couple of nifty cuts to elude would-be Chiefs tacklers before darting up-field toward the punter.

Around mid-field at that point, Edelman knew he would take it the distance for the score.

“I took a look at the JumboTron to see behind [me], but once we hit the crease and I was on the punter, I had a feeling,” he explained with a smirk.

When Edelman crossed the goal line, he pointed toward a spot on the perimeter wall encircling the field at Gillette Stadium as he continued running full-speed toward it. As he got closer, he fired the football at it with authority to celebrate as was mobbed by teammates.

On the ensuing kickoff, Edelman was among the coverage unit, sprinting to be one of the first downfield to cover the kick.

It was that kind of night for Edelman, doing grunt work everywhere put his stated position, yet being rewarded for his efforts with a memorable individual play.

In fact, Edelman is now in elite company in Patriots history. Only three other players – Troy Brown, Irving Fryar, and Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Haynes – have returned punts for touchdowns in a New England uniform.

“I did not know that ... It’s a nice Snapple Fact,” Edelman joked when informed of the news.

The response came from a relaxed Edelman. A relieved Edelman. A manifestly stress-free Edelman.

Indeed, Thanksgiving may have come a few days early for this particular Patriot.

Thankful not just to have a job in the NFL, but several jobs.

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