Should Patriots' best receiver have even been on the field for comeback?
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Here's what we know: The Patriots' season was slipping away in a hurry. With 10:58 left in the 4th quarter, had Julian Edelman not held on for a 21-yard gain on 3rd-and-14, despite taking a vicious shot from Kam Chancellor, Seattle likely would have repeated as champs.
New England scored six plays later to pull within 24-21, then took the lead for good on its next drive en route to a Super Bowl XLIX victory.
What is less clear is whether or not Edelman should have been on the field following that Chancellor hit. He appeared woozy for several minutes afterward. Reporters in the main press box at University of Phoenix Stadium even relayed that the NFL's independent medical spotter, responsible for eyeing players who may be in need of medical attention, called down to the sideline to ask that Edelman be checked for a possible concussion.
Other than for the brief time Seattle had the ball between New England touchdown drives, Edelman never left the field. Heck, he was the punt returner for the Seahawks' punt with seven minutes left. He fair caught it.
"We're not allowed to talk about injuries," Edelman responded twice during his postgame press conference, including once when asked if he had gone through the concussion protocol.
A mere two days ago, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had lauded the league's improvements on the player-safety front by noting that concussions were "down 25 percent this past regular season, continuing a three-year trend." So Edelman remaining in the huddle once Chancellor clocked him surely was not a development Goodell wanted to see.
Whatever Edelman's medical status was after his collision with Chancellor, though, there is no denying how important he was to the Patriots' fourth Super Bowl win. The 2009 seventh-round pick, who long ago turned into a Tom Brady favorite in the passing game, led New England with 109 yards receiving on nine catches. He also scored the touchdown that flipped the scoreboard, handing New England a late 28-24 lead.
But it was his 3rd-and-long catch that may have been the biggest of all.
"I'm exhausted," Edelman said. "I'm sore just like everyone else."
That's all he would offer as far as his health, and he shrugged when asked if Chancellor should have received a penalty on the play for hitting a defenseless receiver. "It's football, it's a rough game," he replied. "You get it [the flag], you get it. You don't, you don't. Just try to move on to the next play and that's what we did."
This is not to stir up another rather trite controversy. We had enough of those during Super Bowl week. Without question, the NFL must continue to tweak how it handles concussions, from the teams to the officials -- the latter can stop action and force a player to the sideline if it's suspected that he may have a concussion.
Edelman remained in the game, for better or worse. The Patriots would have been hard-pressed to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy without him.
"He's the toughest player I've ever played with. He's a warrior," said Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola, who added he was "not surprised at all" that Edelman stayed in the game in spite of the high-impact tackle. "He's tough," Amendola said. "He's an amazing player."
If Edelman was feeling any residual effects of his run-in with Chancellor, he did not show it on what stood as the game's decisive touchdown. Matched up one-on-one with Tharold Simon (in for Jeremy Lane, who suffered a gruesome forearm injury early), Edelman turned the cornerback inside-out by faking a slant and then spinning back toward the pylon.
"Ran a return route," Edelman explained. "Sold the slant, kind of came out of it. ... I was just going out there and trying to do my job: get open and catch the ball."
The Seahawks struggled to keep Edelman -- and, really, the entire Patriots' passing attack -- in check all night. Both to neutralize a pressing, Michael Bennett-led pass rush and to create some favorable matchups not involving Richard Sherman, Brady and Co. unleashed an arsenal of quick passes. On only a couple of occasions did Brady push the ball downfield; one such attempt resulted in a deep touchdown to TE Rob Gronkowski.
Edelman, Amendola and RB Shane Vereen combined to haul in 25 of the 37 completions Brady threw Sunday.
"We needed them because without those guys, we don’t win," Brady said. "They stepped up.
"Offensively, a lot of guys made huge, huge plays. Defensively, a lot of those guys made huge plays. It’s a great team. [Seattle's] got a great offense, well-coached, great defense -- that’s why they’re here and it took a lot to beat them."
By the time it was over, players on both sides were drained, physically and emotionally. In fact, Edelman needed a moment to chug a Gatorade before beginning his individual press conference. He later choked back tears while talking about his dad: "He's just a trailer-trash white dude. He pushed me to these heights. ... I love my dad."
When that presser ended, a good 15 minutes after Edelman's arrival, he limped down from the podium and meandered slowly toward New England's locker room.
Battered. Bruised. Possibly even concussed.
He left it all, perhaps too much, on the field, all in the name of getting New England back on top.