FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For the Patriots, age is just a number.
We learned that a while ago as Tom Brady, 42, continues to defy Father Time. That notion has been reinforced this season with tight end Ben Watson, who’s making plays at age 38. It doesn’t stop there. Julian Edelman might not be pushing 40, but at age 33, what he’s doing at receiver this season is remarkable.
In the NFL, receivers on the other side of 30 historically start to decline. Once skill-position players pass those prime years of their 20s, they typically start to slow down. Instead, Edelman continues to play like that high-flying reckless squirrel that people in New England adore and Brady relies on.
Over the last three games, Edelman has been targeted 15, 12 and 11 times. He’s been targeted 10 or more times in five of the Patriots’ eight games this season. On Sunday, he caught eight of 11 targets for 78 yards and two touchdowns — Brady’s only two passing touchdowns — to help lift the Patriots over the Cleveland Browns, 27-13.
It was the type of performance that left Edelman’s teammates in awe — including newcomer Mohamed Sanu, who hopes to develop that rapport with Brady one day.
“Man, I can’t wait to be on that page. That was a sight to see,” Sanu said. “It’s going to be like that soon.”
Sanu’s development would help lighten Edelman’s workload. Right now, Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are riding Edelman hard. The fact that the team gave up a second-round draft choice for Sanu shows that the Patriots know that Edelman — and Brady — need some help. The constant turnover at receiver this season — Josh Gordon, Antonio Brown and Demaryius Thomas — hasn’t helped.
The one constant has been Edelman.
Through eight games, Edelman has 53 receptions for 574 yards and four touchdowns. He’s on pace to finish with 106 receptions, 1,148 yards and eight touchdowns. That means Edelman would set career-highs across the board.
After Sunday’s win, he said he didn’t feel the need to “step up” due to the current state of the offense.
“I think my job is whatever the coaches ask me to do,” Edelman said. “If that’s go out and block, catch, run — that’s what we’re here for. That’s what I’m going to try to continue to do. I think it’s important for everyone to try to do their job. That’s what I’m trying to do. Try to consistently go out and practice hard and build confidence through practice. I try to perform well on Sundays.”
Right now, Edelman is fourth in the NFL in receptions and tied for eighth in yards per touch (10.2). He leads the Patriots in targets, receptions, receiving yards and is tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns.
At age 33, Edelman is in the midst of a career year. It’s another reminder that age is only a number in Foxborough.
“Julian does a very good job of getting open. He’s strong so he can create some separation on contact and (has) very dependable hands,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He made a good play on the touchdown where he caught the ball on about the 3- or 4-yard line, got his pads down and ran through an arm tackle there and got in. Julian’s a very tough, dependable guy when you’re just looking for a yard or two down there after the catch or around the goal line.”
“He does such a great job of finding spots in a zone, run after catch, just being dependable, being consistent. The trust factor there with him is just incredibly high,” Brady said. “He’s just done a great job for us. He’s really tough. His dependability, especially in conditions like that. ... You’re not going to find anybody in the league that’s more mentally tough than Julian Edelman.”
Change in kicker
The New England Patriots have reportedly found their next kicker.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the team is signing kicker Nick Folk to fill the vacancy left by the team parting ways with Mike Nugent on Tuesday.
Folk is a long-time veteran who most recently kicked in the AAF. While in the NFL, Folk kicked for the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As a former kicker in the AFC, Folk has a long track record at Gillette Stadium.
A Pro Bowler bac in 2007, the 34-year-old Folk has made 80.3% of field goals over his career.