It has been hard, to say the least, to be a New England Patriots fan this year. Pats fans have gotten used to a decades-long dynasty, helmed by a quarterback who could easily be considered the greatest of all time, and consistent near-perfect seasons. Wide receiver Julian Edelman has also been a major component to that.

Cam Newton, who admits his job is on the line if he doesn’t play better, is throwing to an undrafted wide receiver in Jakobi Meyers because Edelman underwent knee surgery earlier this week and was placed on injured reserve. Newton didn’t even target Edelman in Week 7 until he was benched at the end of the third quarter. He landed more footballs on the ground than in Edelman’s hands. But how much does the Edelman injury really affect the Patriots’ wide receiver situation?

Cam Newton caught his stride in the Week 9 game against the New York Jets. N’Keal Harry has recovered from his concussion, and things seem to be looking up in New England. But, they are still missing No. 11 in the end zone, struggling to rack up receiving touchdowns.

Week 12 Update:

Julian Edelman has now missed four games for the New England Patriots, but the Patriots fared better than expected, racking up wins against the New York Jets and the Baltimore Ravens. They lost matchups against the Buffalo Bills and, most recently, the Houston Texans, games where Edelman could have made a big impact. But, speaking to the media via video conference Wednesday, Belichick had hope we may see #11 on the field again.

“I think Julian is definitely headed in the right direction,” Belichick said. “I spoke to him and he’s feeling better every day, confident, stronger.  We’ll just take it day by day.  When he’s ready to go, we’ll put him out there, but we don’t want to rush it or put him out there and then there’s a setback and then we run out of time.  So, when he’s ready, he’ll be back out there.  I know he’s working very hard to get back out there as soon as he can.  We’ll just take that day by day and see when we all feel like that time is right.”

The team, with a 4-6 record, has to be very careful with how they play this. If they continue to push for a playoff spot, they will likely need Edelman back for the final bit of the campaign. But, even one loss could derail their chances and cause them to rethink the Edelman timeline. It could mean he delays his return or even sits out the season in the hopes of a full campaign next season. Only time will tell.

Week 10 Update:

After barely scraping out a walk-off win against the winless New York Jets, the Patriots are taking on Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. It is, to be short, a tough matchup. But, there is optimism in the New England locker room. N’’Keal Harry returns to the lineup for the Ravens game and, a few hours before kickoff, we got some positive news surrounding the Edelman injury. The Patriots, according to ESPN reporter Mike Reiss, may see Edelman back this season after all. Reiss says he may recover quicker than anticipated, and could return for the end of the season.

“Things can always change in an instant, but I heard some optimism from those close to receiver Julian Edelman with how his knee has responded since he underwent a precautionary standard knee procedure on Oct. 29. That optimism is a result of some recent on-field work, in which Edelman was apparently moving well, but the key will be how the knee responds as he continues to stack days together.” – Mike Reiss

Before the knee surgery, Edelman was limited in practices, and was getting the third most snaps among receivers. But, if he takes to the field Wednesday ahead of the Week 11 matchup against the Houston Texans, prospects are good for Edelman’s return to gameplay.

Julian Edelman’s injury and what it means for the Patriots

Edelman was visibly frustrated against the 49ers, throwing his iPad on the ground and staying silently distant from Newton while they were on the bench. It’s likely that he aggravated a pre-existing knee issue during the game, but Edelman is no stranger to playing hurt, and hasn’t played a complete season in a long while.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Patriots, check out #GoPats rumors, rankings, and news here.

Edelman was slotted as New England’s No. 1 wideout this season, and a peek at the team’s depth chart proves why. Behind him is N’Keal Harry, who is also out with a concussion. Things taper off from there. Meyers, Damiere Byrd, Isaiah Zuber and Gunner Olszewski rounded out the starters against the Bills. Even granting that Edelman was a seventh-round pick and well exceeded his draft expectations, that list of names isn’t exactly comforting. It’s certainly a far cry from Tom Brady making Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan look like they were competitive receivers. Of course, it’s a light-year away from Brady throwing to Randy Moss.

On-field impact of Julian Edelman’s injury

But the issue becomes how other defensive lines react to Julian Edelman’s injury. In many cases, teams would send two players to cover Edelman, essentially neutralizing him as a threat. Apparently, it worked– No. 11 had 21 receptions for 315 yards before his injury, but has yet to record a touchdown. Alarmingly, things have gotten worse for Edelman since he recorded those career-high 179 receiving yards in that crushing Week 2 loss to Seattle. Since then, he recorded a dismal eight catches out of 21 targets. In his last four outings prior to suffering the injury, Edelman had just eight catches (on 21 targets) to accumulate an unremarkable 79 yards.

It’s been 4,326 days since the 2008 season ending game, which was the last time New England played without Brady or Edelman. But it’s also been a long time since their top-two wideouts were both out with injury, leaving non–starters to fill their roles.

At halftime of Week 8 against the Bills, wideouts recorded back-to-back penalties and Byrd didn’t make a catch. A commentator even asked, honestly, if running back James White was playing. In what was called a must-win for New England, no passing touchdowns through three quarters doesn’t paint a great picture. Especially on the heels of a three-game losing streak.

The matchup against the Bills turned out to be largely a running game for the Patriots. For good reason. Both touchdowns were runs from Damien Harris and Cam Newton, respectively. Meyers led the team in receiving yards with 58 while hauling in 6-of-10 targets.

Edelman is expected to miss at least three games (2 after the Bills’ loss), as required by the league in in short-term injured reserve situations.

“I don’t think this is a season-ending situation, but we’ll see. I’m not a doctor,” Belichick said. “Hopefully, he’ll be back. He’s worked awfully hard. Nobody is more competitive than Julian is. He’ll do everything he can to be back out there. We’ll just take it day-by-day as a process and see how it goes.”

Patriots’ schedule without star receiver

Patriots WR Julian Edelman against 49ers NFL Week 7
Oct 25, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) walks into the locker room after the first half against the San Francisco 49ers at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

After the loss to Buffalo, these Patriots take on the Jets, the Ravens and the Texans. Julian Edelman’s presence likely won’t change the outcome of any of those games, though it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t have had some impact in the loss to Buffalo.

Having him on the field would have, at the very least, given the Bills’ defense something to grapple with. It might not be as noticeable a loss in the next few weeks.

A win over the Jets is all but guaranteed, as is a loss to the Ravens. The 1-6 Texans probably won’t be much of a challenge. But things get tricky if Julian Edelman is out for longer than that.

The Cardinals are up next, who could easily beat this New England team. Another matchup against the Bills couple with games against the Chargers and Rams could prove difficult without Edelman. Down the stretch, Edelman is the guy New England relies on. Without him and no one to replace him, there will be a lot of running the ball in the Patriots near future.