Julian Edelman's return should be a really big deal for the Patriots offense

Julian Edelman returned to work on Monday. It’s possible the theme song from “Titanic” was playing in Tom Brady’s head when he saw him.

It has been a long time since we’ve seen Edelman on the field for the New England Patriots. So long that his last catch that counted was in overtime of Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons. His second-to-last catch was that memorable fingertip grab against the Falcons, inches before the ball hit the ground, that will be played on NFL Films forever. Yes, it has been that long.

Edelman missed all of last season with a torn ACL suffered in the preseason and the first four games of this season due to a suspension after violating the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. He’ll be back on the field for the first time Thursday night against the Indianapolis Colts, a game that can be livestreamed on the Yahoo Sports mobile app (IOS and Android).

It’s fair to wonder how much Edelman has lost, considering we haven’t seen him in such a long time. It’s also safe to assume he’ll be a huge upgrade for the Patriots.

New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman returned to the team after serving a four-game suspension. (AP)
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman returned to the team after serving a four-game suspension. (AP)

Patriots haven’t been able to replace Julian Edelman this season

The Patriots are 2-2. They have some momentum after crushing the Miami Dolphins. Their offense hasn’t looked as machine-like as usual, mostly because they had nobody who can do what Edelman does.

In a telling stat from the Boston Herald, the Patriots converted 1-of-10 when throwing to receivers on third down in their first three games. That ticked up a bit in Week 4’s blowout win, but it still exposed a big issue.

Chris Hogan is a good contributor but he’s not a slot receiver like Edelman. Nobody else on the Patriots’ roster has the ability to consistently be on the same page with Brady and always get open on key third downs like Edelman. He’s one of the best in the game at it. Without him playing that key role, the Patriots’ offense wasn’t the same.

Edelman’s return helps the entire offense

We still might not see the Patriots’ full offense. Rob Gronkowski is dealing with an ankle injury, and was held out of the team’s walkthrough Tuesday. If he doesn’t play, it’ll extend an odd streak.

ESPN’s Mike Reiss pointed out that Edelman and Gronkowski haven’t played in a game together since Nov. 27, 2016, a stretch of 31 games. It’s remarkable that Brady has kept putting up great numbers in that time, even winning an MVP last season.

That hasn’t been the case so far this season. With passing numbers exploding, Brady’s 918 yards through four games ranks just 20th in the NFL. Gronkowski has been blanketed by defenses, mostly because Edelman hasn’t been around to work the middle of the field and the Patriots had no decent replacement for him.

Perhaps that starts changing this week. The theoretical ceiling of an offense with Edelman, Gronkowski, Hogan and Josh Gordon is very high. We’ll see when all the pieces get back on the field, but a big part of the puzzle will be back on Thursday night.

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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