By David Willis
---- — FOXBORO – There was a time Julian Edelman was the heir apparent, the student to Wes Welker’s teacher as the latter built up his Hall of Fame resume.
When Welker eventually left the Patriots, it was going to be the equally small and quick Edelman that inherited his position as go-to slot receiver, and when Bill Belichick and crew punished No. 83 in past years, it was Edelman that took his spot.
Well, that plan never came to fruition. Edelman fell out of favor after missing the final eight games of last season with an injury, and once Welker moved on to Denver, Danny Amendola was brought in to replace him.
But with his former mentor in the house last night, Edelman channeled his inner Welker, sparking the Patriots offense with one of the best games of his career as the Patriots rallied back from a 24-point halftime deficit to beat Denver 34-31 in overtime on a Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
In what was supposed to be the contest between the Patriots’ old slot receiver (Welker) and the man who many hope will be Welker 2.0 (Amendola), it turned out to be another slot man that stole the spotlight.
Edelman stepped up for game MVP honors, catching nine passes for 110 yards — all but two yards in the second half and overtime and both game-highs — and a pair of touchdowns when it was needed most.
Welker, on the other hand, proved to be a virtual non-factor for Denver, catching just four passes for an inconsequential 31 yards and adding a crucial fourth quarter drop. Amendola was a total no-show, catching three passes for 17 yards.
Those two scores went for the first two-touchdown day of Edelman’s career, and matched his total for the season. Meanwhile, it was his most yards since going for 118 yards during the Week 4 win over Atlanta and his most catches since 13 in a Week 2 win over the Jets.
But it wasn’t just the numbers, it was the way Edelman provided his Patriots with some much-needed swagger.
With the game looking like a Broncos blowout at 24-0 at halftime, it was Edelman that hung the first Patriots points on the board when he snagged a throw from Tom Brady for a 5-yard touchdown.
Edelman then gave the Patriots their first lead early in the fourth, taking a dump pass from Brady, spinning away from one defender, juking another out of his shoes and scampering 15 yards into the end zone for a touchdown that gave the Pats a 28-24 advantage.
One possession later, Welker’s 20-yard punt return, where he cut, stopped twice like he was playing Madden 2013 and darted to the left set up a field goal that eventually led to overtime.
The Patriots didn’t find much offense in overtime, but Edelman did find a 17-yard gain for a first down that helped set up the wild final moments.
It wasn’t perfect. He was part of the fumble trouble early, muffing a punt, recovering then fumbling it again. But while other players folded, Edelman put the gaffe behind him for a huge performance.
“Julian did a very good job for us today,” said Belichick. “He caught the ball, handled it well and gave us good field position. Julian is a tough competitor and stepped up tonight.”
Edelman added three punt returns for 39 yards, along with a number a crucial fair catches that put the Patriots in good shape.
Following the wild finish, Edelman embraced Welker with a long hug.
Odds are, it wasn’t the only hug he earned after that career day.