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Is Julian Edelman the Best Playoff Receiver in Patriots History?

Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons

As we all found out Sunday in the Divisional game against the Chargers, Julian Edelman just moved into second all time in postseason receptions with 98, behind only Jerry Rice (151 … Holy moly). Less well known, but every bit as notable, is that he’s among some pretty incredible company on the receiving end of Tom Brady playoff passes, with Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Deion Branch, Troy Brown, Danny Amendola and Randy Moss all among the Top 36in career playoff receptions (though some did it with multiple teams). Among the all time best single-season playoff performances, Larry Fitzgerald is first with 30 in 2008. But Welker is tied for 4th with 26 in 2007 and Edelman and Amendola are right behind with 25 each in 2014 and 2017, respectively.

Which isn’t really shocking when the quarterback throwing to them is in the process of completely lapping the field in every playoff passing category. Brady has 954 completions to Peyton Manning’s 649, 10,569 yards to Manning’s 7,339 and 72 touchdowns to Joe Montana’s 45. And counting. So yeah, just by simple math, that means a lot of great playoff performances by a lot of receivers.

Which begs the question: Who has been the best? For the purposes of this discussion I’ll put Gronk aside in order to made a wideout apple-to-wideout apple comparison and rank who has been Captain Clutch among the receivers in Pats history. [Note that I took all the stat charts off ESPN’s site, just for the sake of simplicity. After all the rocks and garbage they’ve pelted New England with they don’t deserve the credit. But Brady reads The Four Agreements and I’m sure somewhere in it there’s something about taking the high road.]

7. Randy Moss

Randy Moss of the New England Patriots, No. 81, scores a touPlayoffs Moss

Games: 4. Receptions: 12. Yards: 142. YPR: 11.8. TD: 1. Rings: 0.
Most clutch moment:
The go-ahead 4th quarter touchdown in Super Bowl XLII.

This is probably shockingly low. You remember Moss and it’s all him running past corners to catch bombs in stride and high-pointing balls in the end zone surrounded by defenders. And it’s hard to put a guy this low when he caught a touchdown that should’ve won a Super Bowl. But it didn’t. And his three catches per game in the postseason is way below his Patriots career average. If I didn’t like the guy so much I’d say “Straight Choke, Homie.” But I do. So I won’t.

6. Terry Glenn

Super Bowl XXXI

Playoffs Glenn

Games: 5. Receptions: 21. Yards: 317. YPR: 15.1. TD: 0. Rings: 0.
Most clutch moment:
A diving, 44-yard reception to Green Bay’s 4 in Super Bowl XXXI t0 set up a touchdown that made it a 14-10 game, the last lead the Patriots would have.

It kills me to even put Glenn on this list. At the risk of speaking ill of the dead, he flat out quit on this team five years later and I always considered the ring they gave him after the 2001 season to be a Horcrux that needs to be destroyed. But when he still had some professional pride, the man put on some impressive playoff performances.

5. Wes Welker

Super Bowl XLVIPlayoffs Welker

Games: 9. Receptions: 69. Yards: 686. YPR: 9.9. TD: 4. Rings: 0.
Most clutch moment: His 11 catches on 14 targets and 103 yards in Super Bowl XLII when no one else was producing anything.

It might also seem like a surprise that Welker is ranked this low. But that’s more a commentary on the guys ahead of him than Welker himself. He was great. Brady’s most reliable target. But he was surpassed. And his drop that would’ve closed the sale on Super Bowl XLVI, where the official said “Ballgame!” and someone after the game said “My husband cannot throw the fucking ball and catch it at the same time!” will forever be the Final Jeopardy answer he blew.

4. Danny Amendola

Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots v Seattle SeahawksPlayoffs Amendola

Games: 13. Receptions: 57. Yards: 709. YPR: 12.4. TD: 6. Rings: 2.
Most clutch moment: Two touchdowns in the 4th quarter of the 2017 AFC title game to come from behind against Jacksonville.

If anyone on this list elevated his game in the postseason it was Danny Playoffs, just on his Super Bowl performances alone. He had a critical touchdown against Seattle, a touchdown and a 2-point conversion against Atlanta, and his best game as a Patriot against Philly, with 152 yards. If only he’d thrown a better pass to Brady, but that’s not what this list is about.

3. Troy Brown

Superbowl XXXVI  XPlayoffs Brown

Games: 20. Receptions: 58. Yards: 694. YPR: 12.0. TD: 2. Rings: 3.
Most clutch moment: “64 Max All In,” his 23 yard reception to set up Adam Vinateri’s game-winner on the final drive of Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams.

Getting back to what I was saying about Amendola, if this list was about more clutch play than just receiving, Brown would circumnavigate the globe. It could be all about him. His punt return and scoop and score blocked field goal to beat the Steelers in 2001. His forced fumble on Marlon McCree after an interception to beat San Diego in 2006. Hell, it was tough enough narrowing down just his clutch catches, because I was tempted to go with his 13-yarder, 20-yarder, 13-yarder trifecta to (see where you’ve heard this before) set up Adam Vinatieri’s game-winner on the final drive of Super Bowl XXXVII vs. Carolina. That’s twice in three seasons he played hero ball to win championships. It’s no coincidence that in those 20 playoff games his career record is 15-5.

2. Julian Edelman

Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta FalconsPlayoffs Edelman

Games: 16. Receptions: 98. Yards: 1,175. YPR: 12.0. TD: 5. Rings: 2.
Most clutch moment: That Reception for the Gods in Super Bowl LI.

It seems crazy to think that the guy who is second all time in receptions and could finish this postseason 2nd in yards (he’s currently 7th, 140 yards behind No. 2 Michael Irvin), is only second on his own team, but I stand by it. The beautiful thing he is far from finished. So this is subject to change.

1. Deion Branch

2003 Super Bowl XXXVII  - Tampa Bay Buccaneers over Oakland Raiders 48-21Playoffs Branch 2

Games: 12. Receptions: 56. Yards: 852. YPR: 15.2. TD: 4. Rings: 2.
Most clutch moment: Winning the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX.

Trust me, I’m not taking the easy out by just saying he won an MVP so crown him here. I’ll take the lazy man’s way every chance I get, but not with something as important as a list like this. Branch is here partly because of that incredible 11-receptions-on-12 targets game against Philly. But the fact is, that could’ve been his second straight Super Bowl MVP. The year before he put up an even better 10-catch, 143-yard breakout performance against Carolina. With a the 54-yard bomb he caught to set up a score on the Pats final possession of the half. And a crucial 17-yarder on 3rd & 3 against the Panthers that was all the yardage Vinatieri needed to win it. And he was the most dependable playoff depth threat Brady has ever had. You can’t help but wonder how many more moments like those he would’ve produced if he and the Pats could’ve agreed on a contract and didn’t split up his tours of duty here.

But that’s a discussion for another time. There are more legendary WR clutch performances that we’ll be talking about years from now still to be had. Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarelle Patterson, you know what is expected of you.