FOXBORO -- It hasn't always been easy for Julian Edelman. In fact, often it's been just the opposite.
But in New England's 34-20 win over the Bills on Sunday, Edelman put the finishing touches on the what has been the most productive season of his five-year career. With nine catches for 65 yards, he surpassed both the 100-catch and 1,000-yard plateaus for the first time and joined Wes Welker and Troy Brown as the only receivers to reach those marks with the Patriots.
"A lot of things haven’t gone my way in the past," Edelman said. "Playing behind someone that’s doing really well, or whether it’s injuries or not executing certain situations. But, it was kind of cool to get that today, and more importantly it was great to go out there and win."
Edelman has made himself into quarterback Tom Brady's most reliable receiver in a season when Patriots weapons in the passing game have been shuffling since before training camp began.
Rob Gronkowski was hurt, then not, then hurt again. Aaron Hernandez was incarcerated. Danny Amendola has been hampered by injuries off and on in his first season with the Patriots. Rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce have all missed time due to injury. Running back Shane Vereen -- one of New England's best options through the air -- was placed on short-term injured reserve after Week 1.
Through it all, Edelman has been the constant in the passing game -- no small feat for him. This is the first time in his career that he has played in all 16 games of the regular season.
"I don’t think there’s ever any question about Julian’s skills or his toughness or his competitiveness," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "This is the year he’s been able to stay on the field and certainly his production has paralleled his time on the field. He’s done a good job with his opportunities. He always practices hard, plays hard, prepares well. He’s always a tough guy you can count on from that standpoint and this year he’s been healthy."
Edelman started to become more incorporated into the offense early last season as the heir apparent to Welker, but he suffered an injury in Week 3 and missed three weeks. Then he broke his foot in early December and missed his team's run to the AFC title game.
An ankle injury and a broken arm delayed the former Kent State quarterback's development as a receiver in his rookie season.
He was used sparingly as a wideout in his next three seasons. He showed great talent as a punt returner and even played some defensive back in 2011, but he was more utility man than full-time receiver.
A broken foot slowed Edelman early this preseason, but he credits his recent run of good health to the Patriots training staff -- Jim Whalen and Joe Van Allen -- and Alex Guerrero, billed as Brady's "body coach" at TB12 Sports Therapy Center in Foxboro and dubbed "Mr. Miyagi" by Edelman for his unique approach to nutrition and training.
Edelman said he believed he had the ability to produce the way he has this season if he could stay on the field.
"It's always about just trying to take advantage of the opportunity you've been given," he said. "Being prepared for that opportunity and creating your luck by hard work and being prepared when that opportunity comes. That's what I've been trying to do, and that's what I will continue to try to do."
His drive to go from college quarterback to 1,000-yard receiver hasn't gone unnoticed by teammates. Brady has dubbed him "Minitron" and continuously praises Edelman's work ethic.
Matthew Slater has been Edelman's teammate for five years and has noticed the work Edelman has done both in the receivers meeting room and on the field to turn into New England's top receiving option.
"I'm just so proud of Julian and what he's done this year," Slater said. "He's just been so big for our football team. Week in and week out, just so reliable with all the injuries we've been through and having guys in and out of the lineup. I know this kid has prepared himself to be successful. He's worked at it ever since he got here.
"He's had some tough breaks unfortunately. This year he was able to stay healthy and put together a great body of work and help our football team -- more importantly -- win football games. I'm proud of him as a teammate but I'm even more proud of him as a friend and knowing how hard he's worked to achieve what he's achieved this year."
Edelman signed a one-year deal before this season but figures to reap the rewards of his career year whenever it comes time for him to sign his next. Despite that, he said there was no real added pressure coming into this season to perform even though he one of the only wideouts with any experience in New England's complicated system.
"I mean, that’s not really pressure," he said. "Pressure is when you have like $300 in your [bank] account, like five kids and $800 in bills. That’s pressure. It was more of an opportunity. Around here, if you just do your job, you put in the work and you prepare you’ll be given an opportunity."
Opportunity was hard to come by early in Edelman's career. In terms of what it did for his playing time early in his career, Edelman had the misfortune of playing behind one of the best slot receivers of all time, Welker, for the first four years of his career.
Edelman doesn't necessarily look at it that way, though.
"Wes was -- Wes is -- a very smart player," Edelman said. "And probably one of the best route runners I've ever seen with how he sets things up. His quickness is impeccable. You can't always do what he does, but you can learn from how he sets things up. He's a smart player. He knows what coverage is every time, and being on the same page as the quarterback, having that like telekinesis kind of thing. I've learned a lot from him."
Welker, Deion Branch, Randy Moss and Donte' Stallworth were all former teammates that Edelman credited with making him the receiver he is in 2013.
"They're different body types but you can take a little bit of everything from everyone and try to bring it to your game," Edelman said.
Now after five up-and-down seasons in the NFL, it's Edelman who is trying to pass down lessons to New England's young receiving corps.
"Just kind of doing my job and if they have a question they ask," he said. "Trying to lead by example, stuff like that. We have a solid room in there. We're all comfortable and we're all good friends and there are times when I have a question and I'll ask them because they work very hard in the classroom and they know stuff. They may not have seen it live bullets, but they know the books.
"We all go out there and try to communicate and work together and [Brady] obviously helps us with that. We still got to keep on working. We've got a long way to go but we're going in the right direction."
After getting healthy and getting his career on track, Edelman's leading the way. And this season, he has the numbers to prove it.