Julian Edelman doesn't need to be built like Calvin Johnson or Demaryius Thomas to stick out. He doesn't need to go vertical like Antonio Brown to burn a defense. He doesn't need to make one-handed catches like Odell Beckham Jr. to bring his teammates to their feet.
Edelman just needs to be there. On the field. Moving the chains. In sync with Tom Brady.
The Patriots didn't need Edelman's two-game absence to serve as a reminder of how much they miss him when he's gone, but it did serve as a validation of his value to the offense. Edelman, however, preferred not to get into the hypotheticals after the Pats averaged 12.5 points without him.
"That's not how you think, really," said Edelman, who sat out with the third diagnosed concussion of his six-year career. "You think more about what you've got to do to get yourself out there and get yourself prepared for the time that you're going to be out there. That's a tough question to even answer. I don't think like that."
Edelman had 92 receptions for 972 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season, and he was on pace for 105 catches and 1,110 yards before the injury, which would have dovetailed nicely with his breakout season of 2013 — 105 receptions, 1,056 yards and six scores.
Obviously, the Patriots also played the regular-season finale without tight end Rob Gronkowski and offensive linemen Sebastian Vollmer and Dan Connolly, and Brady only played a half. So the points per game stat isn't a perfect measurement.
The on-field product was visibly different, though. Brady could have used Edelman's uncanny ability to quickly get open to counter the Bills' enclosing pass rush. The best example occurred in Week 12 against the Lions when Edelman caught seven of Brady's 24 completions that were unloaded within 2 seconds of the snap. In that regard, Edelman is nearly as valuable as an offensive lineman in the face of a blitz, and that will come into play Saturday against the Ravens.
This is when Edelman can really show his stuff, and he knows it. Because Ravens cornerbacks tend to sag 6-8 yards off the line of scrimmage, Edelmancan anticipate plenty of targets on short routes. Also, expect the Patriots to get him up the sideline to expose the corners' weaknesses against double moves, and he might also be a menace in crossing routes behind the linebackers.
Edelman's strengths are built to combat the Ravens' weaknesses, so he is well-positioned to continue his momentum from last year's postseason when he caught 16 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown in two games.
"This is where your name is made," Edelman said of the playoffs. "You play in the regular season to win, but you play for your name in the postseason. It's what you're remembered as."
Edelman, who famously made the transition from a Kent State quarterback to an NFL wide receiver, is a different breed who doesn't typically draw as much fanfare as rival receivers. His goal is to be effective for the cause, and he compartmentalizes everything in that capacity.
"I really just go out and do what the coaches ask me to do," Edelman said. "I try to come in here and work hard, put the team first. There's a lot of good players out there. You can take something from everyone. When you do that kind of stuff, prepare to the best of your ability, it gets you in the right position (and) the right mindset going into games. That's how I look at it."
Edelman is among the Patriots not named Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork who are seeking their first Super Bowl ring with the franchise, and he could be compared to a different lineage of performers if they reach the top of that mountain. Edelman, who has most often been compared to Wes Welker, might actually someday challenge Deion Branch as the best receiver ever drafted by Bill Belichick.
There's only one way for that to happen, though. The Pats have to win the season's last game.
"Anytime your team is winning ballgames, that's all that really matters," Edelman said. "That's the only stat that matters. You could have good stats, and if you lose, they don't mean anything. The only stat that matters to me is winning.
"I've always been like that. You always want to be able to contribute to your team in a winning fashion. I don't know if I love winning more or I hate losing. It's one of those things where you just don't want to lose."