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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Three months removed from his drunken driving arrest, Braylon Edwards has vivid memories of that horrible experience: 11 lonely hours in a jail cell and the media-crushed perpetrator walk at the arraignment. Those moments, he said, were the low points.
"Sometimes, I still think I'm in that low point," Edwards said Thursday in an interview with ESPNNewYork.com.
The words sounded incongruous coming from a wide receiver who had just played his best game of the season, maybe his best game with the New York Jets -- eight tough catches and 100 important yards in this past Sunday's upset win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
|Braylon Edwards had his best game of the season last Sunday against the Steelers.|
Some might find this hard to believe, but Edwards has been the most sure-handed receiver on the team -- one dropped pass -- and his 16.8 per-catch average is ninth in the NFL. But he called himself "the odd man out" in the Jets' galaxy of big names. He meant in terms of "media, publicity, everything."
It wasn't said with anger or frustration. Well, maybe a little frustration. Edwards acknowledged the talent around him as the primary reason for being overshadowed, but he added, "I feel part of it is because of the DUI."
He might be right. There's a stigma attached to drunken driving, even if he hasn't been convicted yet. The truth is, Edwards is having one of those sneaky good seasons. He's making big plays, blocking like crazy and behaving himself in the locker room. As teammate Brandon Moore said, "I don't know the bad-rap Braylon."
Therein lies the dilemma for Edwards. He wants to remain a good teammate and prove to the hierarchy that he's worthy of a long-term contract extension after the season, but he said he knows he could be doing more. He wants to do more, but he also doesn't want the "diva" label to resurface.
"For me to say, 'I want the ball,' which I do, why draw extra attention to a team that already gets all the attention?" he said. "Everything gets magnified here. This season, we're that team. I don't want to say 'They need to throw me the ball,' Keyshawn Johnson-style, but I'm a playmaker. Give me the ball and plays will be made.
"You saw that this past weekend. Every time they've thrown the ball to me this year, something has happened -- a completion, a touchdown or pass interference. At the same time, I love being here and I want to do what it takes to stay here. I'm treading lightly, but know that I'm thinking certain things."
"I want the ball," he answered. "I want to be more a part of the offense. I want it focused on me in certain situations. But sometimes it doesn't happen like that. You have to get the main part together before you can focus on the small pieces. I feel like it'll happen."
In some respects, Edwards believes he has a bad rap. He's heard the whispers: Too passive. Just happy to be out of Cleveland. Drops too many passes.
In 2008, Edwards dropped a league-high 16 passes for the Browns, resulting in untold ridicule. He dropped five last year, according to Stats LLC -- a rather generous assessment. There may have been a few more. With help from his position coach, Henry Ellard, who recognized that Edwards wasn't tracking the ball properly with his eyes, the former Pro Bowl receiver spent countless hours in the offseason on ball drills.
His objective? "Let me make my name mean something in this league once again," he said.
While Santonio Holmes has grabbed most of the headlines because of his late-game heroics, Edwards has been the Jets' most consistent receiver. Really.
"He has great hands, but sometimes you can get a little lazy with your eyes," Ellard said. "That's what I think happened last year. That's what we talked about in the offseason and something we needed to address."
All the hard work seemed to pay off with a big game in the Week 2 win over the New England Patriots. But one night later, Edwards was arrested in Manhattan with a blood-alcohol level of .16 -- twice the legal limit. He was returning from a charity fundraiser held by teammate Jerricho Cotchery.
Edwards said the incident helped him refocus. Although he never considered himself a party animal, he stopped going out, period.
These days, he stays at home, plays a lot of Scrabble, goes to the movies a lot and goes bowling (he owns 12 bowling balls). His latest infatuation is the new Michael Jackson video game on Wii. On weekends, he has family in from out of town, filling his four-bedroom condo with a dozen or so people.
"I'm not a loner," he said. "I just can't go it alone. I have to be around people."
Whatever he's doing, it's working. Edwards never looked better than he did in Pittsburgh, making difficult catches over the middle. The most important reception was a 15-yarder on the Jets' game-tying drive in the third quarter, a play in which he was drilled by Ryan Clark. The safety was penalized for an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit.
Edwards called that his most satisfying play of the game, but not for the reason you might think. It had to do with music.
At the start of that drive, the PA system at Heinz Field blasted its traditional crowd favorite "Renegade" by Styx -- a hard-rocking song designed to fuel the Steelers' defense. As a former Browns player who played many times in Pittsburgh, Edwards was familiar with the "Renegade" anthem and warned his teammates to be ready.
"Usually, they scare a lot of teams with that gimmick," Edwards said.
Not this time. The Jets marched 66 yards, scoring on Mark Sanchez's 7-yard bootleg on fourth-and-1 -- "Our renegade drive," Edwards said with a grin.
Music to his ears. But he may wonder how long the song will last.Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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