FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Hours after suffering the chest injury that knocked him out of the Patriots’ win against the Jets, Julian Edelman made a promise to his teammates.
According to safety Devin McCourty, a sidelined Edelman said he would do everything in his power to be available for the team’s next game at Buffalo. Through Friday afternoon, all signs point to Edelman keeping his promise.
Since X-rays returned negative last Sunday, Edelman has participated in every Pats practice. A packed travel bag rested in front of his locker Friday, and he flew with the team Saturday. While Edelman was unavailable to the media, several of his teammates reminded reporters his toughness is renowned, even within a rugged working environment like an NFL locker room.
“Jules is crazy. He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever played with,” McCourty said. “So you never count him out.”
But it probably won’t be until Sunday they will know if he can over-deliver and actually play against the Bills.
Edelman officially is listed as questionable for Sunday. The nature of his injury could leave him susceptible to further harm if he’s drilled by a defender in the mid-section. The damage Edelman’s absence would do to the Pats offense is clear and obvious.
After lighting up New York for three touchdowns in as many drives last weekend, Brady’s bunch was held to 10 points in the second half. Only a single drive traveled more than 25 yards. Brady later called the difference in his offense without Edelman “definitely noticeable.”
The Patriots’ passing struggles were reminiscent of a year ago, when they started 2-2 during Edelman’s four-game suspension to start the season. The front office quickly cured those ails by trading for Josh Gordon after two games. Should Edelman sit in Buffalo, the Patriots will lean on Gordon again.
Gordon, though, could be eliminated Sunday by Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White, who often shadows opponents’ No. 1 wide receivers. If that’s the case, Brady could be surrounded by a similarly average crew that in 2018 struggled when forced into starring roles — with one key exception. There’s no Rob Gronkowski this time around.
After Gordon and Edelman, Phillip Dorsett is followed by undrafted rookies Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszweski on the team’s wide receiver depth chart. A year ago, throwing primarily to Dorsett, Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson, Brady averaged fewer than 230 passing yards in four September games. He clung to the ball too long in the pocket, took six sacks and fired four interceptions, both high marks for any month that season.
His security blanket was gone and defenses closed in. A swarming Bills defense — currently ranked fourth against the pass by DVOA — likely would do the same Sunday, which is why Edelman’s mere presence at practice has given the Pats a lift.
“I wouldn’t say you lose an edge, but you hear Jules when he’s out there,” Meyers said. “You hear Tom when he’s ready to go. So you lose a big part of that when you’re playing because (Edelman)’s going to make you feel confident. He’s going to keep everybody up.”
Added Dorsett: “We all know the warrior he is. He’s been here for however long, and he’s been grinding every day. We all appreciate him just being out there, being available for us.”
Meyers is confident he can step in as the Patriots’ new third receiver if needed. The N.C. State product transitioned quickly from quarterback to receiver midway through his collegiate career, flashing NFL ability from the slot and out wide. Dorsett and Meyers likely would split Edelman’s slot duties in three-receiver sets — the Pats’ most common personnel grouping this season — if he misses time.
“I’m used to just being thrown in random spots and having to figure it out. So that’s kind of what I’ve been doing here,” Meyers said. “If they throw me out there, I’ll do my best to make a play.”
The other question hanging over the offense pertains to the running game. Injuries have temporarily sidetracked the offensive line, a unit that stabilized the Patriots’ offense in the face of uncertainty late last season. The Pats ran for 273 yards against Buffalo in December to snap a two-game losing streak.
Might the front five deliver again?
The simpler, more bankable solution seems to be fielding Edelman with additional padding around his injury. Give Brady his blanket back. Allow the Patriots’ passing attack to operate with its receiving centerpiece.
Let the man keep his promise.