Julian Edelman carved out a role as one of Tom Brady’s most trusted receivers during the star quarterback’s two decades with the Patriots.
Two games into the post-Brady era in New England, Edelman has already developed a similar chemistry with the team’s newest QB.
The 34-year-old Edelman has emerged as a favorite target of 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton through the Patriots’ first two games, totaling a team-high 236 yards receiving, including a career-high 179 in last Sunday’s 35-30 loss at Seattle.
Despite his early success with Newton, Edelman isn’t ready to play favorites between Brady and Newton.
“None of that has even crossed my mind. That’s more for (the media) to make a judgment on,” Edelman said Friday. “I’m just trying to go out and do what the coaches ask me to do and try to be on the same page with Cam and do the best I can.”
Edelman’s 13 catches and 18 targets are tied with second-year receiver N’Keal Harry for the team lead. The 12th-year pro’s two-game yardage total has exceeded his output in each of his first 11 years with Brady by 42 yards.
Brady looked Edelman’s way more than any other pass catcher during the quarterback’s 20-year Patriots career, completing 689 passes on 1,036 targets in 150 regular and postseason games together, according to NBC Sports Boston.
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Only tight end Rob Gronkowski has more total receiving yards (8,949) from Brady than Edelman (7,647). Edelman’s 41 total touchdown catches from Brady — one more than Hall of Fame wideout Randy Moss — rank second behind Gronkowski (90).
Brady’s well-documented and meticulous level of preparation has allowed him to continue to play the game well into his early 40s. He is often the first player out on the field on game days, setting a tone for his teammates.
With Brady gone, Edelman has assumed that responsibility within the Patriots’ locker room.
“When you have a good routine — and I learned that from a lot of veteran players, that adjusts according to position — but if you put together a routine, find out what you have to do, work hard at those things and try to improve, that’s usually when you improve,” he said.
Edelman has found a new role as a downfield threat after being used primarily as a slot receiver with Brady. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he is being targeted deeper down field by Newton (12.3 yards through the air) than he was by Brady last season (9.2 yards).
After finding a diving Edelman for a highlight-reel 49-yard completion — his longest of the season — in the third quarter last Sunday, Newton showed his appreciation by wearing an Edelman-branded “happily miserable” T-shirt on Thursday during his weekly media availability.
“For some strange reason I haven’t got my (Edelman) hat yet. (It) has to be custom because of obvious reasons — I think it’s because I’m smart, my hair kind of cushions a lot,” Newton joked. “I’m waiting on my ‘JE11’ hat amongst other Julian Edelman merch. Just supporting the cause.”
Edelman isn’t the only member of the Patriots’ offense who has had to adjust to Newton’s style on the fly. Third-year left tackle Isaiah Wynn said he needs eyes on the back of his head to keep up with Newton.
“You never know what could happen,” Wynn said on Wednesday. “You could be in the middle of pass protecting and it turns into a scramble. … It’s one of those things that’s fun to me just because it keeps me on my toes.”
Newton could help Edelman match a surprisingly rare feat for the receiver on Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders if he pushes him over the century mark for a second straight game — something Edelman did only twice with Brady.
Edelman will likely take on a greater role in the offense with third-down running back James White expected to be out again following his father’s death in a car accident last Sunday. White’s mother was also injured in the crash and is in critical condition.
Edelman enters Sunday with 612 career regular-season catches, trailing only Wes Welker (672) on the team’s all-time list. His next touchdown would tie him with Gino Cappelletti, Irving Fryar and Larry Garron for eighth in franchise history.
“I love to compete and I love football — plain and simple. It’s better than being in a cubicle. I think it’s an unbelievable job,” Edelman said. “It’s something I’ve been doing since I was 8 years old. I’ve been around (the game) since I was in diapers.”
If Edelman finds the end zone for the first time this season against the Raiders, it could go a long way toward assuring a Patriots victory. New England owns a 22-3 record, including postseason, when Edelman catches a touchdown pass.
“Everyone’s just got to worry about what they have to do, to go out and do their assignment, and if we collectively do that, that’s usually when you have your best result,” he said. “As a receiver, I’m going to try to get open (and) catch a ball.”