DETROIT -- It was the type of cut that Julian Edelman makes a dozen or so times every game. It was the same type of cut he'll try two or three times in the span of a few seconds on a punt return or while trying to create yards in the open field after a catch.
But when Edelman attempted to stick his right foot in the Ford Field turf in the first quarter on Friday night, his knee seemed to buckle. He went down immediately, got up quickly, and called for help before he reached the sideline.
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After meeting with head trainer Jim Whalen and head physician Dr. Mark Price, Edelman was carted back into the tunnel toward the Patriots locker room. He was initially ruled as "questionable" to return but was later ruled out.
Even before that announcement, it was relatively clear his night was over. How much more time he'll miss is unclear at this point. But if Edelman is forced to miss any significant amount of time, the Patriots would be forced to embark on the 2017 season without arguably its most important offensive player not named Tom Brady.
Including his performances in three playoff games last season, Edelman was targeted a whopping 181 times in 2016. He caught 119 for 1,448 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 12.2 yards per reception and 5.0 yards after catch per reception.
Without him, the Patriots would be down Brady's favorite target and his security blanket on third down. They would also be down one of their most competitive practice players, and a veteran presence in the locker room who has become one of the team leaders after arriving in 2009 as a seventh-round draft pick.
The Patriots, understanding his importance to what they do offensively, signed Edelman to a two-year $11 million extension this offseason as the 31-year-old faced the prospect of hitting unrestricted free agency after the 2017 season.
In his absence on Friday, the Patriots went to Chris Hogan immediately. Hogan caught a seven-yard touchdown two plays after Edelman's injury. On the following drive, Hogan caught a 32-yard touchdown on New England's first play from scrimmage.
The taller, longer-armed Hogan is a different kind of receiver than Edelman, but he would be the team's clear-cut No. 2 behind Brandin Cooks if Edelman missed any time.
New England Patriots
Edelman's injury could also force Danny Amendola into more significant action early on in the season. The team has done well to manage Amendola early in seasons to help ensure he's in good health when December and January (and February) roll around, but Amendola is the team's top slot option behind Edelman and he could be relied upon more often if Edelman misses time.
The Patriots have been dealing with injuries at the receiver position since early in camp as Matthew Slater has missed weeks of practice time, and Malcolm Mitchell is dealing with a knee issue after playing in last week's preseason game against the Texans.
Would the Patriots keep a player like undrafted rookie Austin Carr on the 53-man roster in order to bolster their depth at the wideout spot? Would they simply rely more on two tight-end sets with Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen? Would they lean on two-back sets with James White, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis working in as pass-catching options?
Whatever the Patriots choose to do to help patch things together, if they're without Edelman for some length of time, they won't all of a sudden turn into a pumpkin. They still have arguably the best quarterback in the game, the best tight end in the game, an explosive down-the-field threat, and a deep stable of running backs.
But if Edelman has to sit, the team that was considered by many to be an unstoppable machine this season would be forced to move on with serious engine trouble.