Foxboro -- What a difference two weeks make. After the Pats lost their second straight game to Detroit in September, there was major concern about the offense. The Pats had only three active receivers who gave them little production. Thursday Night at Gillette Stadium, it was the first time the Pats had Rob Gronkowski, James White and Julian Edelman on the field at the same time since November 2016. For all the talk about scheme and play calling, players make the difference. Those three players combined for 23 catches for 209 yards. The three receivers who were active for the losses to Detroit and Jacksonville, Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, and Chris Hogan (who is falling out of favor fast) had eight catches for 70 yards Thursday Night against the Colts.
Pats fans have nothing to worry about with the offense. The NFL is a physical game and injuries can always happen. With Josh Gordon, Edelman, Gronkowski and White - the Pats now have one of the best offenses in football. With the rules favoring offense more than ever before, it is hard to believe that the Pats will face many teams in their final 11 games that can slow down this offense. Josh McDaniels returned to the basics Thursday Night by spreading out the Colts and going with an up tempo pace. The result the Colts rushed four, played seven in coverage and Tom Brady, who threw his 500th touchdown pass Thursday Night, found the openings in the middle of the field. Allowing receivers to have easy releases is a bad way to beat Tom Brady.
With Julian Edelman being back, he makes everyone look better. But what really makes the offense look better is Julian Edelman who has a great ability to read the coverage and get open. He does what Bill Belichick loves - accept what the defense gives you and make the most of it. Belichick once told a running back (courtesy of NFL films clips) - don't outdumb yourself if you see the hole just hit it and go. Edelman does that for a receiver - he finds the creases in the defense and exploits them.
"Yeah, well that's the mark of any good player. You try not to force things. Try to take what's available and make the best out of it. If it's not there, then sign off and go somewhere else or cut your losses and move on to the next play. Really I think that's all players. It's good advice for all players. But yeah, Julian does a good job of that," Bill Belichick said.
Edelman is also nifty so he can evade defenders like his mentor Wes Welker. White gives the Pats the flexibility to throw it short if the receivers deep are covered. He also can run routes well if needed. It might, though, be Edelman’s leadership that the Pats missed most.
"It gives me a lot of confidence as a player to see him out there," special teams ace Matthew Slater said. "It's been a while so it definitely has been a welcome sight. We are fortunate to have players like who are consistent and dependable in big moments. "
Edelman has also been a great force in the locker room.
"His personality is one of a kind," Slater said. "He's always giving us a hard time - holding guys accountable. He just brings an edge. He's like that irritated uncle that's like ahhh. He's like an old gunslinger. It's good and we miss that. We're still forging our identity early in the season. We have shown some resiliency. It's a long season. Who we are and our character that story is still being written."
Edelman, who spent the past month while he was suspended working out with the Boston Celtics, wore a Celtics jersey to the podium after the game. Edelman doesn't shave and looks like the grizzly rugged football player anyone would want to have on the roster.
"I definitely took advantage of the time coming off an injury. I had Brian from the edge. I had (Rob) Ninkovich out there. Harvard was very generous at let me using their facilities. Boston College, Rivers Academy, Foxboro - it was pretty cool to see the support from all these people," Edelman said afterwards.
Edelman just loves New England. The schools could have awarded him an honorary degree. Asked if the report was true that he worked out with the Celtics.
"I worked out in Brighton with some tall guys," Edelman said. "I'll leave at that. Tell Gordon (Hayward) - easy on the ping pong talk. He has a special paddle."
Edelman might not have played a real game in 405 days, but his personality has not changed. If he lost to Hayward at ping pong - the uber competitor would not be happy.
"I am living my best life," Edelman said.
Having Edelman back also allows Gronkowski to be free from constant double coverage. It also relieves Gronkowski of having the stress of being the go to guy on every play. Gronkowksi's body won't get as beat up and he can get better releases off the line of scrimmage. Josh Gordon adds a threat deep that the defense must respect. Gordon surely will not have a year like he had in 2013 where he had 87 catches. But if he gives the Pats 35-40 catches with a few deep touchdown catches like the 34-yard touchdown catch he had Thursday Night - this offense will be tough to defend late in the year.
Players seem happy that they responded when their backs were against the wall. Slater was happy that the team responded from being 1-2 to now 3-2. Win or lose, Bill Belichick uses games as teachable moments to show what the players can do better.
"It's better to learn from a win then a loss," Slater said. "We have shown some progress in that department. I think we have responded well -- being 1-2 and having our backs against the wall," Slater said. "It will be nice to get a mini by week here and get ready for a huge game next time we enter the stadium."
At last a weekend off.
Except for Edelman, who might be playing ping pong at some local college. One never knows how or where to find him.