Julian Edelman has been a wide receiver, a returner, a running back and a cornerback over his six years with the New England Patriots. But it wasn’t until Saturday night at Gillette Stadium that the 2009 seventh-round pick got to be what he was before.
With 4:28 remaining in the third quarter of Saturday night’s divisional playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called upon Edelman to do what he did at the College of San Mateo and Kent State. He called upon the pass-catcher to to throw one for the first time in his 86 NFL games.
“We were saving it for whenever Coach McDaniels called it,” said Edelman during his weekly appearance on WEEI’s Middays with MFB. “We’ve been working on it for a while, had it in the bag for probably half the season. We just never got the situation or the coverage we needed to get it called.”
Down seven on a 1st-and-10 from the 49-yard line, the situation was right for the Patriots.
The offense turned to “11” personnel, with halfback Shane Vereen in the backfield and tight end Rob Gronkowski at the numbers.
Both Vereen and Gronkowski manned those spots not to catch a pass, but to catch traffic. And while Edelman initially manned right wing of New England’s offensive line across from them, he would be manning elsewhere before the time the ball was snapped.
Quarterback Tom Brady got under center and shouted “51.”
By the time he shouted “280,” Edelman had swung around behind him to stack the trips side of the field.
Baltimore’s 2-4 defense responded to what it saw. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs kicked back to the right side as third safety Darian Stewart dropped down behind him for the slot blitz. And on the back end, strong safety Will Hill read Gronkowski while free safety Anthony Levine awaited the deep middle.
The coverage was right.
“We were getting it all throughout the game with Baltimore,” Edelman said. “We got the coverage, they called the play.”
With one step back and one pivot leftward, the play was underway and Brady’s low-arcing pass was out. And by just enough, it grazed over the head of the Ravens’ edge rush while the secondary backpedaled 15 yards away.
It grazed into the hands of Edelman from there.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound option quarterback, who had thrown for 30 touchdowns over three seasons with the Golden Flashes from 2006 through 2008, had long been expected to throw another before he’d defend one. It just never came to fruition in a game.
In practice, it did.
“It was more of we would throw it out there every once in a while in practice and if we executed it properly or if we got the look or if that defense did that, we were going to use it,” Edelman said.
Behind the guard of Gronkowski and Amendola’s outside-releasing fly route, it was about to be used in a playoff game. The Ravens just didn’t know it yet.
Baltimore cornerback Rashaan Melvin left Amendola’s side, and Hill sprinted to the flat to defend what initially appeared to be a screen. But as Edelman set his feet and clutched the seams of the football with his red gloves, it became apparent that it was not one.
He set his eyes downfield and out it went, beyond Melvin along sideline and beyond Levine in centerfield.
“You are trying to hit him in the head, get the right mechanic there,” Edelman said of the deep ball.
The mechanics behind the pass saw it connect with Amendola over the shoulder and in stride. Into the end zone for a 51-yard score he went from there as the Patriots evened the score at 28-28.
It marked the first time a wideout had thrown for a postseason touchdown pass since former Indiana Hoosier QB Antwaan Randle El did so for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL. It marked the tie of a game that the Patriots twice trailed by 14. And it marked something that many had been waiting years to see.
“There it is, the old Kent State quarterback,” NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth said. “They have been keeping that one under wraps for a long time.”