Julian Edelman pulls in one of his eight receptions against Seattle despite being closely covered by defensive back Jamal Adams. Edelman has made a smooth transition from Tom Brady to Cam Newton. Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

Once Tom Brady left New England, Julian Edelman’s future came into question.

Would Edelman – a tough, hard-nosed receiver for more than a decade – be the same player?Was he too old? Would his heart be into it without his best buddy throwing him passes?

The debate turned out to be a needless exercise.

New England quarterback Cam Newton, left, has targeted Edelman, right, and N’Keal Harry 18 times each after two games. Steven Senne/Associated Press

Watching Edelman through training camp and the first two games of the regular season, there shouldn’t have been any doubt about his commitment, allegiance or performance.

Need Brady?

Edelman has not only maintained his toughness level, he’s even more determined to show his mettle and effectiveness without the benefit of No. 12 in the huddle. He’s been every bit as clutch and dependable with Cam Newton as he was with Brady over the course of 11 seasons.

Sure, it’s only two games, but it’s been pretty apparent Edelman can play with any quarterback. At this point, the interest is more about how well Newton and Edelman will fare in the next game, how the duo will exploit the Raiders secondary.

Brian Billick, the former Super Bowl-winning coach now wth the NFL Network, isn’t surprised the Newton-Edelman connection has started to click.

“With Edelman’s talent, Cam Newton is certainly smart enough to latch onto that and recognize he can utilize him in the same way (Brady did),” Billick said. “He’s smart enough to know, ‘I’ve gotta get the ball to this guy.'”

Newton is no dope. He knows what Edelman brings to the table, and how much clout he has with the younger receivers.

Perhaps to no surprise, both Edelman and N’Keal Harry have been on Newton’s radar the most thus far, with 18 targets each after two games.

But at age 34, how long can Edelman possibly keep up his standard of play?

Between his age and the abuse he’s taken over time – all the hits he’s taken over the middle – it seems like he’s held together with duct tape.

Last season was somehow one of his best statistical seasons despite shoulder, knee and rib injuries. He finished with 100 receptions, six TDs and a career-high 1,117 yards.

Moreover, he was in the top-five in routes, targets, receptions and touchdowns for receivers.

A year later and a year older, will he be able to keep performing up to normal Edelman standards, or will there be a decline?

Edelman takes so much abuse making plays. He doesn’t know how to protect himself. He’s all out, all the time.

As it is, he’s dealing with a knee injury. That’s necessitated him being limited during the week at practice.

Based on the first two games, though, Edelman still has the ability to get open. On Sunday night against the Seahawks, he was Newton’s go-to guy, both short and deep. And that was mostly with Seattle’s Jamal Adams on his tail.

Newton hit him down the seam for a gorgeous 49-yard completion in the third quarter, as Edelman, taking a page out of his new quarterback’s book, stretched out like Superman to catch the ball. Newton also connected with the receiver he calls “Highway 11” on a number of crossing routes.

The result was eight catches for a career-best 179 yards. All but one of those completions went for double-digit gains, and seven of the eight receptions came in the second half. Thus far, he’s averaging 18.2 yards per reception.

It’s hard to get better than that.

Newton and Edelman almost hooked up for the winning touchdown, missing by inches.

Edelman had just pulled in an 18-yard pass to set the Patriots up at the 13. He was tackled inbounds, so the clock was running. On the next play, Newton fired a high bullet into the end zone that Edelman just couldn’t pull in. The ball zipped through his hands.

“It got on me quick and I didn’t make the play,” Edelman lamented after the 35-30 loss to the Seahawks.

On Tuesday, during his weekly appearance on WEEI, Newton absolved Edelman, sticking up for the receiver. The pass had a little too much mustard, especially at the trajectory it was thrown.

“When I talked to Jules, he was like, ‘Man, I could have got it,’” Newton said. “And I knew it was catchable for him and his expectations. But it came in with a lot of heat, and it was high. There was a combination of that. … It could have been a better ball. I knew it could have been a better ball. And in those types of situations, that separates the good from the great from the elite.”

Edelman expects to catch everything. He expects to be a difference-maker. None of that has changed with a new quarterback in the huddle.

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