BOSTON (CBS) — The New England Patriots got a big boost Thursday night with the return of wide receiver Julian Edelman.

He took the field with a fervent sprint, and it didn’t take long for Edelman to make his presence felt in his first real game in 20 months. He hauled in a nine-yard pass from Tom Brady on the Patriots’ first snap of the game, which received even louder cheers than his pre-game dash. Overall, Edelman caught seven of the nine passes that Brady sent his way for 57 yards in New England’s 38-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Racing onto the field was Edelman’s way of releasing all the emotions he’s felt since tearing his ACL last preseason, not to mention getting slapped with a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy.

“I mean that’s something that gets me fired up and you get to share it with the people that come out and support you, get them riled up and it – I remember when I tore my ACL and I was sitting back and during the rehab, you’re just sitting there and can’t wait to run out of that tunnel,” he said after the game. “So it was great to get to be able to play with the fellas, it was awesome to get the team win. Obviously we could do a lot better but anytime you go ahead and beat a team in the conference, it’s always great, especially the Colts. We’ll leave it at that.”

Given the long layoff, there were some obvious signs of rust from the 32-year-old receiver. He dropped a third-and-5 pass from Brady in the first quarter, forcing New England to punt it away following a three-and-out. But there was much more good than bad. He nearly found the end zone on New England’s first drive, taking a short pass from Brady on second-and-goal and getting down to the Indy one-yard line, dragging three Colt defenders with him. It set up Cordarrelle Patterson’s score to give the Pats a 7-0 lead.

And Edelman did what he does best, moving the chains for New England three times during the game. He was even back to returning punts, another area the Patriots have struggled in to start the season.

Edelman admitted after the game that he still has some work to do to get back to his true form, but he was happy to be back on the field and help the Patriots earn their third win of the season.

“There’s some things that obviously we have to work on but it was good to get out there and catch some rocks and go out and make some plays and be with the fellas,” Edelman said after the win. “I haven’t played football in – I think it was like 405 days or something like that, so it was good to be out there in front of the crowd. They were rocking, they were awesome. Seeing all them was amazing. So, it was just great to be back.”

The New England offense, especially the receiving corps, has had their share of issues to start the season. There wasn’t much consistency over the first three weeks, as receivers struggled to get open. But having Edelman rejoin Brady’s arsenal alongside the likes of Rob Gronkowski and James White makes life much, much easier on the Patriots’ 41-year-old quarterback.

“We wanted to get him involved and he made some great plays. Just good to have him out there,” Brady said after the game. “You know, I’m sure we all want it to be perfect every time we go out, but I was really happy to be out there with him. He’s a great player, and obviously, the more great players you have out there, the better we’re going to move the ball and score points. You know, I’ve been playing with Jules for a long time and really happy to have him out there healthy and having fun.”

Just having Edelman around changes everything for the Patriots. He’s a fierce competitor on the field, one that is never afraid to yap with opponents. But he also likes to mix things up a bit in the locker room, which keeps the mood light. His teammates feed off it — even if they do tend to get a little annoyed by some of Edelman’s antics.

Patriots captain Devin McCourty, for example, was flabbergasted by the obvious disrespect Edelman showed Celtics star Kyrie Irving when he took the podium in a custom No. 11 Celtics jersey with “Edelman” on the back.

“Super disrespectful to Kyrie Irving, to dare put his name on the back of that,” McCourty joked postgame. “But that’s him. He lightens the mood. He’s energetic. Talking trash. It was funny to see him in here pregame, he hit a couple sets of squats. He was ready to go. So another one of those guys I think no one worried about. We knew he was gonna be ready. It was great to see him out there.”

There were reports that Edelman spent his suspension working out with the Celtics in their new training facility in Brighton. He wouldn’t confirm those reports outright, but hinted that it did indeed take place. He also made a point to clarifying his ping pong matches with Celtics forward Gordon Hayward, who claims to have won nine of his 10 games.

“I worked out in Brighton with some tall guys so I’ll leave it at that,” Edelman joked. “And tell Gordon easy on the ping pong talk. He’s got a special paddle. He’s got a special paddle. I didn’t bring my paddle to the facilities so we’ll leave it at that.”

Julian Edelman is indeed back for the Patriots, in more ways than one.

 

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