CBSSports.com National Columnist

Sorry, haters: Edwards proves himself worthy player

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MIAMI -- The haters really had to hate this. The haters who wanted Jets receiver Braylon Edwards suspended for more than one quarter of the Jets' game Sunday night at Miami. The church ladies, like uptight moralist Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News, who wanted Edwards to miss four games after being arrested on DUI charges.

They had to hate this, because Edwards played three quarters. And he played very well.

He won the damn game, is what he did.

This sight couldn't have pleased those who wanted the Jets or the NFL to drop the hammer on Braylon Edwards. (AP)  
This sight couldn't have pleased those who wanted the Jets or the NFL to drop the hammer on Braylon Edwards. (AP)  
Edwards had some help, don't get me wrong. One NFL team doesn't beat another NFL team by a score of 31-23, as the Jets beat the Dolphins, without getting lots of contributions from lots of players. The Jets got another Pro Bowl passing day from quarterback Mark Sanchez, who threw for 256 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Jets got two receiving TDs from tight end Dustin Keller. The Jets got 70 tough rushing yards from LaDainian Tomlinson, and they got 41 flashy rushing yards from Brad Smith, and they got brilliant punting from Steve Weatherford and a punt block from Eric Smith, and they got a game-sealing interception in the end zone from Drew Coleman with 27 seconds left.

Lots of guys put the Jets in position to win this game. But Braylon Edwards won it for them, and that has to rub the haters the wrong way. For a change, I'm not one of the haters. You hate who you hate, and I don't hate Edwards. Not that Edwards is a sympathetic figure, because he's not. By getting arrested for DUI, he was basically charged with turning his car into a potentially deadly weapon. A DUI is no laughing matter, and it's nothing to shrug off.

And this wasn't shrugged off. Edwards has spent the last week being ripped in print and on the radio. If there's a worse city to be a professional athlete under arrest than New York, I don't know of it. Edwards was lampooned and mocked, and he was publically censured by his organization, and he was symbolically benched for a quarter of a nationally televised football game.

All of that's enough for me. Maybe it isn't enough for you, and I won't try to convince you that you're wrong. Reasonable people can disagree on the appropriate discipline for an NFL player who has been arrested on DUI charges, but I can tell you this: Very few NFL players get suspended for a game for a first DUI arrest. It just doesn't happen. It didn't happen this very offseason to the Dolphins' Ronnie Brown, for example. It didn't happen a few years ago to the Giants' Kareem McKenzie.

Barely a peep was uttered when those guys played right away.

It's different with Edwards for a few reasons. One, he has been in off-field trouble before, and he plays like an idiot on the field at times too. Two, he's a Jet. He plays for Rex Ryan. The Jets, and Ryan, are as disliked as any team-and-coach in the NFL. Not by me, mind you. You like who you like, and I like this team. I like this coach. I could even learn to like Edwards, who is way too smart to behave as stupidly as he has been prone to do.

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Edwards was smart enough to call NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Friday, "to reach out to him before he has to reach out to me," Edwards said. He left a message for Goodell, a message that Edwards said "showed him I was remorseful. I'm not trying to be a misrepresentation of the NFL."

That was a smart move Friday. And then Edwards had a brilliant game Sunday. He caught two passes for 87 yards, both of them huge. The first was a 67-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

"I was excited to be in the end zone," Edwards said. "It's been a long week -- an emotional week for me and my family."

Edwards' other catch was a 20-yarder on third-and-10 from midfield with 4:35 to play and the Jets clinging to a 24-23 lead. The Jets would eventually score the decisive touchdown on the drive -- after Edwards extended the possession a second time by drawing a pass interference penalty in the end zone on third-and-goal from the 4 with 2:06 left. Two plays later, Tomlinson scored from 1 yard out.

Jets win. Edwards wins. And the Jets were loving him afterward. If this team resents Edwards for leaving them hanging with the arrest, they hid the hell out of it. Safety Jim Leonhard said "we had his back," and Sanchez called Edwards' touchdown Sunday "the perfect thing that could have happened to him. He worked so hard all week long, and as soon as he stepped in the [practice] building, he let everything outside of that building go. Everybody checks their baggage at the door, and he just focused in."

The Jets have more baggage than most teams. They have a season of Hard Knocks to live down, and Antonio Cromartie's children and Ines Sainz's blouse, and now they have Braylon Edwards' DUI.

The Jets responded about like you would expect, if you've been paying attention to this team over the past 18 months. They grinded out another victory.

"This is a tough team. Resilient team," Ryan said. "It was an unfortunate situation, obviously. We dealt with it. We support our player. We support all our players. This is a tough team, and that's what we hang our hat on."

Edwards wanted to ignore the media afterward. He saw the horde gathered around his locker, walked up to a team P.R. official and asked, "Do I have to talk?" Told he probably should, Edwards went to his locker, muttered "everybody hates me" to Brad Smith, then left to take the longest shower possible. He came back, dressed slowly, left the room for a few minutes to button his shirt, then finally returned to face the music.

And he answered every question with patience, humility, even grace. I've seen idiots, and Braylon Edwards isn't one. He does stupid stuff, yes. But he's not an idiot.

Sunday night, he was a winner. The haters will hate the resolution to this week, but Edwards didn't exactly love the week himself.

"It's been interesting," he said. "Hasn't been the best feeling, but luckily I have teammates and an organization like the New York Jets that support me. They made it the best it can be."


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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