FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts — A year after the New England Patriots proved they could with the Super Bowl without Rob Gronkowski, they will head into 2017 trying to defend their title without Julian Edelman.
The slot receiver went down with a non-contact knee injury in the first quarter of Friday night’s third preseason game in Detroit. A day later the team confirmed that Edelman would be lost for the season with a reported torn ACL in his right knee.
“We feel badly for Julian and hope that he will have a speedy and complete recovery,” head coach Bill Belichick said the afternoon after the injury took one of his team’s most consistent, respected contributors. “But yeah, the team will have to move on and we’ll have to compete in this season without him. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is, so we’ll have to figure that out.”
Edelman is coming off a season in which he led New England with 98 catches for 1,106 yards and three touchdowns. He had another 21 catches for 342 yards and a score in last winter’s march to another Lombardi Trophy, including a diving, finger-tip grab in the Super Bowl that is now known simply as “The Catch” in New England.
Though it will clearly be a challenge to replace quarterback Tom Brady’s close friend and trusted receiver who has topped 92 receptions in three of the last four seasons, New England certainly has the depth of pass-catching options to, as Belichick put it, figure out how to keep the offense cruising.
Beyond a now-healthy Gronkowski, the addition of Brandin Cooks in a trade this offseason now looks like an even bigger move. Receiver Chris Hogan, who tied for the NFL lead averaging 17.9 yards a catch, has had a tremendous summer and looks quite ready to have an even more productive second season in New England. Danny Amendola will also be leaned on more consistently, bringing a similar skill set to the slot position. The Patriots also sport one of the deepest groups of pass-catching running backs in the NFL with Super Bowl hero James White, dual threat Dion Lewis and free-agent addition Rex Burkhead.
Brady will be the man tasked with distributing the ball in different ways than he has become accustomed to in recent years with his good friend Edelman as the top option to get drives going and move the chains.
“It’s tough any time a teammate goes down,” Brady said in Detroit, shortly after watching Edelman get carted to the locker room. “So you know, we’ve all been playing long enough where when someone does, the people have to step in and fill a void.”
Brady supported Edelman on social media after New England announced that the receiver would be lost for the season, posting a picture on Instagram of the two teammates embracing with the word, “Gladiator.”
Edelman himself texted CSNNE.com on the night of the injury saying simply, “I am relentless.”
So, too, are the Patriots. They have overcome major injuries in the past on the way to successful seasons. Last year’s Super Bowl win without Gronkowski was just the latest, best example.
New England will have to do so once again.
But even Belichick, normally as cold-blooded and matter of fact as you’ll find, admitted that as his team moves on without Edelman in terms of putting together the team and trying to win games, it’s not necessarily that easy off the field.
“There’s a personal side. I mean, you never move on,” Belichick said. “Julian will be here on a regular basis doing his rehabilitation and so forth. So you never really move on from that standpoint.”
On the field, it’s a different story. It’s next man up. Do your job. And on to Kansas City for the season opener. Because the NFL season waits for no man. Not even Edelman.