FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Julian Edelman was a quarterback at Kent State University when the New England Patriots selected him in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL draft.

The seventh round. In other words, the last round.

And he was taken by a team that already had a Hall of Fame-bound guy named Tom Brady at quarterback.

Julian Edelman just wanted to play in the NFL. So when the Patriots told him to return punts and learn how to be a wide receiver, he didn’t blink. Yes sir.

Now the Patriots would be in deep trouble without him.

Edelman, in his sixth year, has become one of the most valuable members of the Patriots’ offense, probably behind only Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski. And Sunday night he displayed all his talents, and his value to the Patriots, in New England’s 43-21 whacking of the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium.

Edelman caught nine passes for 89 yards and a touchdown, a 5-yarder that gave the Patriots a 13-7 lead with 14:19 remaining in the second quarter. But his biggest impact was still six minutes away.

That’s when Edelman returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown that gave New England a 20-7 lead.

“Huge play in the game,” said Patriots Coach Bill Belichick.

It was an intriguing play from the very start, so let’s break it down, shall we?

After a holding penalty stalled their drive, the Broncos faced fourth-and-20 at their 31. Punter Britton Colquitt came on and dropped the snap.

“We should have blocked the punt,” said Belichick. “We just didn’t finish the play on the front end of it.”

Colquitt quickly scooped up the ball and got off the punt. Edelman knew right away he could return it.

“Yeah, I saw he dropped the ball,” said Edelman. “He punted it and didn’t turn it over. It wasn’t necessarily a high one.”

Once he caught it at the New England 16, Edelman looked up and “saw that Timmy Wright made a block.”

Danny Amendola, the short returner in the formation, also got a block.

“He did a good job of knocking that first gunner off to get Julian started,” said Belichick. “That was probably the key block to get us going.”

Edelman then did what he does best – make people miss. He learned to do that at Kent State, where he not only threw for 4,997 yards but rushed for 2,664.

So Edelman started to run right, where the Patriots’ wall was forming. Belichick noticed that the Broncos’ coverage was “compressed into the middle of the field. So once Julian got kind of out there toward the numbers, then there wasn’t anybody left until he cut it back.”

That was at the Denver 35, when Edelman noticed only Colquitt in front of him. That’s when he thought about scoring.

“I’m thinking it’s a touchdown, or I’m going to hear a lot of crap,” said Edelman.

So he planted his right foot and cut diagonally across the field, eventually getting into the end zone on the left sideline.

“I had a little piano on my back at the end,” he said. “But we got it in and it was a great team play, a lot of guys making hard blocks and playing with pride.”

Why he made that cut, Edelman couldn’t say. “I don’t think about it,” he said. “It’s instinct, I guess.”

It was the fourth time in his career that Edelman returned a punt for a touchdown, setting a franchise record.

“I enjoy it a lot,” he said when asked about returning punts. “It’s a huge part of the reason I’m in this league, and it’s something I take pride in.”

He also loves playing for special teams coach Scott O’Brien, who is in his fifth season with New England.

“The dude is, like, psycho with special teams,” said Edelman.

O’Brien prepares them for everything. “Something that hasn’t been done in the NFL since 1982, we still practice it every week,” said Edelman. “It’s taking pride in those little things that makes things like that happen.”

His teammates enjoy watching Edelman, especially Gronkowski, who at 6-foot-6, 265 pounds is the physical opposite of the 5-10, 200-pound Edelman.

“Edelman is great to watch,” said Gronkowski. “He zigs out and in, such a great player in how he can go in and out and make defenders miss. And he’s a hard worker. He deserves every moment of it. I love watching him play.”