FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Nerves? Yes, of course. When you haven’t played in more than two months and your first game back is the divisional round of the AFC playoffs, you’re going to have some anxiety.
“It’s a playoff game and I hadn’t played in a while, so I had some butterflies,” said Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, who recovered from a broken foot in time to return to Saturday’s game against the Chiefs at Gillette Stadium.
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But there also was excitement for the diminutive wide receiver, who has become a vital piece of the Patriots’ offense the last three seasons.
“I was like a kid waiting to open up presents on Christmas or Hanukkah,” said Edelman, who is of Jewish ancestry and celebrates Jewish holidays, although he was not raised in a Jewish household.
The best present of all: a 27-20 win over the Chiefs and a trip to a fifth straight AFC Championship Game for Edelman and the Patriots.
The 29-year-old wide receiver was terrific in his first game back, showing little rust in producing 10 catches for 100 yards.
“It felt good,” he said. “Any time you go out with your teammates and get a win in the divisional round against a really good football team, it feels good. We have a lot of work to do. The next game’s going to be the toughest game of the year, and you have to get ready for it.”
The winner of Sunday’s Broncos-Steelers game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High will face the Patriots for the AFC title. If the Broncos win, the AFC Championship Game will be in Denver. If the Steelers win, the Patriots will host.
The Patriots wasted little time getting Edelman into the flow of his first game back since being injured in a 27-26 win over the Giants in Week 10. Tom Brady targeted him on the Patriots’ second play, although the ball was thrown behind him and fell incomplete. Brady hit Edelman on the next play for an 11-yard gain, then went right back to him for a 13-yard pass over the middle.
Edelman had two dropped passes and seemed more upset about those than he was pleased about the 10 balls he did catch. Asked if any of his receptions stood out, he replied: “I have to watch the film. There’s two drops I didn’t like.”
Edelman was seen walking into the X-ray room after the game, but he declined to say whether he received an X-ray. He said the team does not permit players to discuss injuries.
Though Brady clearly is the most indispensable player on the team, Edelman’s presence has been a major factor. In the 10 games he has played, including Saturday’s playoff game, the Patriots are 10-0. In the seven games he missed, they were 3-4.
“He’s worked his tail off,” Brady said. “He’s always been one of the hardest workers I’ve ever played with. He’s one of the most determined young men on this team. He’s got as much heart as anybody. It’s a serious injury to come back from the way he did. He played great.”
The Patriots can become the first team since the 2003-04 New England teams to win back-to-back Super Bowls. Edelman no doubt will be a big factor if they get that far.
“You can always play better,” he said. “To go out and play good in the next game is important . . . I’m personally going to have to get back and do a lot more.”