ATLANTA — This might come as a shock to many of you, but Bill Belichick doesn’t have all the answers. He isn’t omniscient. He makes mistakes. He misses things.
But for the advice of a sportswriter, he might have missed Julian Edelman.
“It’s kind of interesting,’’ Belichick said the morning after Edelman was named MVP of the Patriots’ 13-3 victory Sunday night over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. “I’ve got to give [former Dallas Morning News football writer] Rick Gosselin credit on that one for getting us started on Julian.’’
Edelman was a running quarterback at Kent State. He threw more interceptions (31) than touchdown passes (30) in 31 starts there, but he rushed for 1,370 yards and 13 touchdowns his senior year.
Gosselin, whose draft knowledge Belichick respected, told him he might want to check out Edelman.
“I was talking to Rick, and at one point, he said to me, ‘One kid you might want to take a look at is this quarterback out of Kent State; he’s a good player,’ ’’ Belichick recalled.
So he did.
“We went out and worked him out twice,’’ Belichick said. “We sent one coach up there the first time. Then we sent another coach because we weren’t sure what we would do with him.
“He wasn’t an NFL quarterback. Was he a receiver? Was he a punt returner? Was he a defensive back? Was he a guy who could play multiple positions in the kicking game?’’
Or maybe he was all those things.
Even on draft day, Belichick wasn’t sure what exactly Edelman was. But there was something about the kid he liked, and so the Patriots ended up selecting him in the seventh round of the 2009 draft.
“He caught passes, which he had never really done before,’’ Belichick said. “And returned kicks, which he had never really done before. And played defense, which he had never done before.’’
Following in the footsteps of versatile players such as Troy Brown and Mike Vrabel, Edelman became the Patriots’ newest Swiss army knife. He did whatever Belichick needed him to do, whether it was lining up in the slot as a receiver, covering the slot as a defensive back, or returning punts.
“Nobody has worked harder in my career than Julian to develop his skills and his craft,’’ Belichick said. “Because he didn’t really have any background in the things we were asking him to do.’’
Edelman caught 10 passes for 141 yards Sunday against the Rams. Eight of his catches produced first downs.
In the Patriots' three playoff wins, the 5-foot-10 Edelman had 26 receptions for 388 yards. For a 16-game season, that’s a 139-catch, 2,069-yard pace.
His 115 career playoff receptions are second only to Jerry Rice. Same with his 1,412 postseason receiving yards.
Edelman spent much of the game undressing the Rams secondary, particularly cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Nickell Robey-Coleman. No one could cover him in man coverage, and he was consistently able to find holes in the Rams’ zone coverage.
He had a 17-yard catch against Robey-Coleman early in the third quarter on a third-and-1 that led to the first of Stephen Gostkowski’s two field goals. He also had a 13-yard reception on the Patriots’ fourth-quarter touchdown drive that broke a 3-3 tie in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history.
After the game, Brady, who completed 21 of 35 passes for 262 yards but failed to throw a touchdown pass for just the third time in his last 38 playoff starts, told Edelman that he was proud of him.
“That was big,’’ the 32-year-old wide receiver said. “He’s been an unbelievable guy to learn from. As a football player, a professional, a family man, the guy’s all in.
“That trickles down when you see leaders of your football team do that. It shows guys, like when I was a young guy, that, hey, he’s Tom Brady, and he’s still working with a [private] quarterback coach. He was a three-time [now six] Super Bowl champion at the time, and still was putting in the hours.’’
Edelman missed all of last season with an ACL tear, then sat out the first four games of this season while serving a PED suspension. He still finished with 74 catches and six TDs. Over the last five seasons, he has 430 receptions and 26 touchdowns.
Not bad for a guy the Patriots weren’t quite sure what to do with when they drafted him more than nine years ago.
“I remember going in and seeing Coach — I don’t know if he remembers this — but I was a rookie and it was like 11 o’clock at night,’’ Edelman said. “I saw him on the treadmill watching film.
“By the grace of God, we ended up walking out of the building at the same time. I probably had said three words to him since I’d been drafted. I looked at him as we were walking out and said, ‘Coach, you sure like football, huh?’
"He goes, ‘It beats being a plumber. See you tomorrow.’ You see guys like him and Tom do that and put in the work, it’s going to rub off. If it doesn’t, you’re probably not going to be there.’’
Envisioning an army of angry, wrench-wielding plumbers storming the gates of the Patriots’ suburban Boston training facility, Belichick said, “I think Julian misquoted me. I mean, I have a ton of respect for plumbers. I can’t even turn the water on by myself.
“Those people do a great job. I think I might’ve said [coaching football] beats working.’’
That’s his story and he’s sticking to it.
One of the things that persuaded Belichick to draft Edelman was his competitiveness. He recalled watching film of one of Kent State’s games against a Big 10 school.
“He didn’t have a lot of blocking,’’ Belichick said. “They were getting killed. I think they ended up losing by three touchdowns. But what you saw in that game was how competitive he was. How hard he was to tackle, and how tough he was.
“I mean, they were down by three touchdowns and he was playing with an intensity that, honestly, was hard for [the defense] to handle. They had a difficult time with him. You could see his competitiveness on film, and you could see it in workouts.’’
He saw that same intensity a year later in a 33-14 playoff loss to Baltimore in Edelman’s rookie season with the Patriots. He had six catches for 44 yards and two touchdowns, plus a 28-yard punt return, in the loss.
“He was probably our best player on the field,’’ Belichick said. “Now, we didn’t play well that day and got hammered. But he played that game the way he played that game when he was at Kent State. Caught a split screen and broke five tackles to pick up a first down.