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Julian Edelman is tough and a force for Patriots

The wide receiver has bounced back after missing all of last season with a torn ACL.

Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman catches a pass

Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman catches a pass in front of the Chargers' Casey Hayward Jr. in AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on Jan. 13. Photo Credit: CJ Gunther / EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

ATLANTA — Julian Edelman isn’t as big as some of the other dynamic players at his position, but his toughness has helped him overcome that and become a playmaker for the Patriots.

Where does it come from?

“I like to go to a batting cage,” Edelman said, “and I put the tokens in and I like to sit in front of it and let the balls hit me in the face.”

No, seriously.

“I was the kid who wanted to be a skateboarder,” Edelman said. “Falling off the skateboard helped me get tough.”

Come on.

“I had an older brother who used to whip my butt,” Edelman said.

The last one seems the most plausible. The 5-10, 198-pound Edelman runs routes all over the field and returns punts. He takes a hard hit and bounces right back up.

Edelman, 32, has carved out a terrific career for someone who was a 2009 seventh-round pick out of Kent State and played quarterback in college.

He’ll be playing in his fourth Super Bowl on Sunday when the Patriots face the Rams. An ACL injury forced him to miss New England’s loss to the Eagles in last year’s Super Bowl, and the Patriots missed Edelman.

He’s one of only two receivers in NFL history with at least 100 catches in the postseason (the other is Jerry Rice). Edelman needs 44 receiving yards in Super Bowl LIII to move into second place in postseason history behind Rice.

“What he’s done in the playoffs is really spectacular,” Tom Brady said. “Nothing surprises me with Julian. He’s a great competitor. Nobody works harder than Julian to try and be the best he can be for our team. He works for everything. Hopefully he can go out and have his best game of the year.”

Edelman’s stats would be even more eye-popping had he been a part of last year’s Super Bowl run.

He sat out the entire 2017 season after suffering the ACL injury in the preseason and missed the first four games this season because of a PED suspension. Since returning, he’s shown little rust.

Edelman caught 74 passes for 850 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games. He has 16 receptions for 247 yards in the postseason, including some huge catches on the winning drive in the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City.

Not being able to play in last year’s Super Bowl hurt Edelman, and he’s thrilled the Patriots are back.

“It means the world,” he said. “It’s been a crazy year for me — two years.

“Had a kid, tear your ACL, miss four games, it’s been a mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting year. You put all that effort into overcoming that for this game. It’s been a heck of a year to get to go out and play with your teammates and see how this thing’s evolved out. It’s always a great thing to get to play in the last game of the year.”

Edelman has done a little of everything for the Patriots over the years. He returned kicks and played defense in the playoffs earlier in his career. Bill Belichick calls Edelman “unselfish.”

His ability to adapt and work through situations left his teammates with no doubt that he would come back strong from the knee injury and make an impact.

“When it happened, you knew Julian was coming right back,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “Any obstacle you throw at Julian, he’s coming through it and he’s going to come back stronger.”

“Most guys have kind of a down year when they come back from an ACL,” Brady said. “Julian hasn’t had that. Julian’s been a big part of our offense since he came back. He’s feeling really healthy this time of year. That’s a good thing for our football team.”

For the Patriots, that could mean the difference between winning and losing this time.

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