FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman missed seven-plus games with a broken foot to close the regular season.
The fracture required surgery. He was at practice for a month on a limited basis before returning to game action in Saturday's 27-20 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
There was some rust. Edelman had a handful of drops, including one he nearly batted into pick-six interception. But the slot receiver hauled in an 11-yard catch to move the chains on New England's first third down of the day. That drive continued toward an opening touchdown as Edelman boosted the passing attack with a game-high 10 catches for 100 yards.
"It felt good," Edelman said of his return. "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, so it's one of those things that we've got a lot of work to do. Next game is going to be the toughest game of the year and you've got to get ready for it."
He was, however, focused on fixing the mistakes he made.
"I dropped some balls that I shouldn't of - trying to do stuff, trying to make a move before I caught it, but I just had to slow down and get back to the fundamentals and I'll be working those out this week," Edelman said. "That was just me trying to be too fast."
--Tight end Rob Gronkowski also got off to a fast start in the win over Kansas City. He caught a 32-yard completion on the Patriots' second third-down play. That drive ended with his own 8-yard touchdown catch to open the scoring. After missing a couple days of practice last week, Gronkowski didn't looked slowed much by the back and knee injuries he's been dealing with.
That was especially true on a hitch-and-go in which he made All-Pro safety Eric Berry look silly on the way to his second score of the day.
Gronkowski finished with seven catches for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"You always want to get a fast start, especially being together with everyone, Julian [Edelman], Danny [Amendola], everyone back out there on the field. We were all just clicking on that drive and it was great to get a touchdown [on the] first drive. That's how you always want to start," Gronkowski said.
Edelman had just a single word to describe his tight end teammate and his performance to push the Patriots to yet another AFC title game.
"Beast," Edelman said.
--Quarterback Tom Brady will be playing in his fifth straight AFC Championship Game on Sunday, only the second quarterback in NFL history to accomplish that. Ken Stabler took the Oakland Raiders to five consecutive AFC Championship Games from 1973-77.
This is the 10th overall trip to the conference title game for Brady. The three-time Super Bowl MVP is looking to advance to his seventh Super Bowl.
"It's pretty cool. It's hard to do," Brady said after beating the Chiefs and advancing to the AFC title contest yet again "You've got to grind throughout the entire year. There are only four teams playing next week, and we're one of them. And that game means a lot, so we've got to try to get as healthy as we can and see if we can put together our best game of the year."
A couple days later, in his weekly radio interview with WEEI in Boston, Brady expanded to reveal he could have never envisioned of such a successful career of winning.
"It's beyond what I'd ever imagined, in my wildest dreams," Brady said, looking back to his first trip to the conference championship game in his initial season as a starter back in 2001. "That was the first time it really felt like, 'Wow, this is a big deal.' Fifteen years later, to be part of 10 of those, I'd never imagined that any of this was even possible. I just knew that I loved the game and I've played with so many great teammates who have sacrificed so much. ... You never take it for granted."
--Wide receiver Chris Harper, linebacker Jonathan Bostic, safety Tavon Wilson, defensive tackle Ishmaa'ily Kitchen and defensive end Geneo Grissom were healthy scratches for the first playoff game.
--Guard Tre' Jackson (knee), who started nine of the 13 games during the regular season, was inactive after missing practice all last week.
--Tackle LaAdrian Waddle (shoulder) missed the game after being limited in practice last week.
--Defensive end Chandler Jones started and played his usual reps on defense despite the medical emergency the previous Sunday a week earlier that sent him to the emergency via ambulance from the Foxborough police station. Jones did not finish the game against Kansas City, though, apparently because of a right leg injury. The medical emergency was reported to be caused by a reaction to synthetic marijuana and he apologized to the team during the week.
--LB Dont'a Hightower (knee) returned to the starting lineup after missing the season finale with the injury. As was the case over the last month of the season, Hightower limped on and off the field throughout and missed plays at times.
--LB Jerod Mayo left the second half of Saturday's win over the Chiefs with a shoulder injury and did not return.