PROTOCOL SHMOTOCOL. That was the unspoken message delivered by the Patriots in the fourth quarter, when they refused to pull slot receiver Julian Edelman off the field after he got rocked by Kam Chancellor.
After moving the chains with a clutch, 21-yard catch on third-and-14, Edelman was earholed by the Seattle strong safety, who should've been flagged for the helmet-to-helmet shot but wasn't. After the game, asked if he'd been checked for a concussion as per NFL rules, Edelman stonewalled and said, "We're not allowed to talk about injuries."
Standing 10 feet away, Frank Edelman proffered his unofficial diagnosis: Sure, his son "was seeing stars" after that Chancellor thunderclap. But by this time, 25 minutes after the game, Frank reported that "Jules seems O.K." The father then sounded a philosophical note on the subject of how hard, and often, his son is flattened. "Being a slot in the Patriots' offense, you get beat up. That's part of the deal."
Tenderized though he was by the Legion of Boom, Edelman did considerable damage himself: His 109 receiving yards, on nine catches, led the Patriots. His three-yard touchdown snag just before the two-minute warning—he pinched to the inside before digging hard to the outside—provided the margin of victory.
That feat would be eclipsed, then re-eclipsed by a pair of outrageous plays to come: Jermaine Kearse's immaculate reception and Malcolm Butler's immaculate interception. Afterward, discussing rookie cornerback Butler's unlikely journey to the NFL (p. 41), Edelman noted, "There are a lot of guys who have that story on this team." He's right. This game was a showcase and celebration of New England's creative, risk-taking personnel choices. Butler's training camp tenacity earned him the nickname Scrap, a sobriquet that also describes the heap from which many Patriots were pulled.
"Look at Rob Ninkovich," said Edelman, as he ticked off teammates with humble origins. "The guy was a long-snapper at Miami. Butler wasn't drafted." Nor were starting guards Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly. "Sebastian Vollmer, some German"—the Pats' right tackle hails from D√ºsseldorf—"didn't play the sport until he was 22."
In fact, Vollmer was a tight end for the D√ºsseldorf Panthers at age 14, but Edelman's point is taken: These Patriots are willing to sift through the bargain bins in some remote football outposts. Indeed, this club takes pride in taking flyers on unlikely prospects. In 2009 that long shot was Edelman, a 5'10" quarterback out of Kent State. And he was grateful just to get to 5'10". "Jules didn't hit puberty till he was, like, 17," recalls Frank, who owns an auto body shop in Mountain View, Calif. "When he got to high school, he was five-two and a hundred pounds."
Between his junior and senior years at Woodside (Calif.) High, Julian grew six inches and put on 50 pounds. As a senior, he quarterbacked the Wildcats to a 13--0 record. Following a season at junior college in San Mateo, he got some minor feelers from Pac-10 schools, but coaches urged him to change positions. "I had this foolish pride," recalls Edelman, who grew up with a Doug Flutie jersey in his room. "I wanted to be a quarterback."
Deal, said Doug Martin, head coach at Kent State, who admired Edelman's quickness and fire. Edelman led Division I-A as a senior in rushing yards by a quarterback, with 1,370. He passed for another 1,820, then slew Kent State's pro day. His short shuttle time of 3.91 seconds was faster than any recorded at the 2009 NFL combine, to which he'd not been invited. Edelman was short, unknown, and had played a position in college that he surely would not play in the pros. Naturally, the Patriots found him irresistible, selecting him in the seventh round.
"He's in at five in the morning, catching tennis balls he throws off the wall," says Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. "Or he's out on the field, having the equipment guy dunk balls in ice water, and then throw them to him. He's the definition of a self-made player."
Now in his sixth NFL season, Edelman has succeeded Wes Welker as Brady's go-to guy in the slot. Four plays after Chancellor leveled him, Edelman converted another third-and-long with a 21-yard catch, down to the four-yard line to set up the touchdown that whittled Seattle's lead to 24--21.
Should he even have been on the field? On Monday, the AP reported that Edelman was checked on the sideline by medical staff and an independent neurologist. That examination apparently didn't happen quickly enough for the league's designated head-injury spotter, who was looking on from the press box. Shortly after Chancellor t-boned Edelman, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press tweeted: "Can hear the independent medical doctors in the box radio to the sideline saying Edelman needs to be checked for concussion."
If the NFL's new protocol had been followed to the letter, Edelman may not have been there to catch the game-winner on New England's next drive, during which Brady completed all nine of his passes. Concussed or not, Edelman was sharp enough, postgame, to make the case for Brady as the greatest quarterback of all time.
"He's won four Super Bowls—he's been in six—in the salary cap era," said Edelman. "You can't just go out and buy Super Bowls these days."
No, you can't. You've got to have a nose for a bargain.
AL TIELEMANS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED