Edelman front and center

HOUSTON -- Rookie receiver Julian Edelman, who projects to take on the bulk of Wes Welker's responsibilities in the playoffs, was front and center after the Patriots' 34-27 loss to the Texans on Sunday.

"I'm going to have to do a lot of studying and prepare like I have prepared all year," Edelman said after setting career highs for catches (10) and receiving yards (103). "All I can do is work hard and take the coaching that we have had and go with it."

Edelman, a seventh-round draft choice out of Kent State, has been one of the team's surprise performers this season. He filled in for Welker in the second and third weeks of the season, and plays with a similar style.

In 10 games prior to Sunday, he had totaled 27 receptions for 256 yards on the season. Edelman's numbers spiked against the Texans, and the Patriots will need more of the same in the playoffs.

"He's not a rookie any more," cornerback Shawn Springs said. "He needs to be ready to step up."

Part of what has made the Patriots' offense difficult to defend was having Randy Moss working the outer edges and Welker underneath in spread packages. Edelman is now the top option to work the underneath routes. In more compact two-receiver packages, the team also could use Sam Aiken more.

Edelman, who is listed at 6-foot, 198 pounds, has won the respect of some of his teammates for the way he has returned from a forearm injury that limited him in the middle of the season.

"He's a tough guy and I think he's going to fight for every yard," said backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, who saw his most extended action of the season Sunday. "I think people have been comparing him to Wes for a long time, but I think Julian is his own player."

Edelman downplayed his contributions Sunday, saying it didn't matter because the team didn't win.

"I have to keep on working," he said. "We have a lot of room for improvement. We have to put this behind us. We have another season coming along. We are 0-0 now and we are going to work hard and see where we go from here."

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.