Danny Amendola Disproves Critics; Can’t Be Wes Welker 2.0 For Patriots

Danny AmendolaFOXBORO, Mass — Opinions were split when the New England Patriots signed wide receiver Danny Amendola hours after Wes Welker agreed to terms with the Denver Broncos.

Amendola was either supposed to be the second coming of Welker or an injury-prone “wuss” who couldn’t finish a season. It turns out neither party was correct.

It would have been impossible for Amendola to live up to his hype or his predecessor. The slot receiver has followed in Welker’s footsteps his entire career from attending Texas Tech, to going undrafted, to signing with the Patriots. Now, Amendola will be compared to Welker once again as the Patriots face the Broncos on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.

Just because Amendola didn’t turn out to be Welker 2.0 doesn’t mean his regular season was a disappointment, though. Amendola displayed impressive toughness, missing just one game with a concussion and playing through a painful groin injury. Amendola originally suffered the groin ailment in the preseason. He had healed by the regular season but the injury worsened before halftime in Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills when he ripped the groin muscle completely off the bone. He gutted out the second half, catching seven passes on eight targets for 64 yards, helping lead the Patriots to a 23-21 victory.

Amendola sat out the next three weeks, but that didn’t mean the injury suddenly disappeared once he returned. The receiver still was listed on the injury report with the groin injury before this week’s AFC Championship Game. The Amendola the Patriots have seen this season is hardly the receiver at 100 percent capacity (given the receiver’s injury history, there might not be a 100 percent Amendola). At least Amendola finished the season and played 12 games, however — one less than his predecessor played for the Broncos this year.

Amendola wound up with 54 catches for 633 yards and two touchdowns during the regular season. He added three catches for 77 yards in the Patriots’ divisional-round playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady offered up some lofty praise for Amendola on Thursday.

“Danny’s had a great season,” Brady said glowingly. “He’s showed me really what he’s all about. He’s fought through a lot of adversity earlier in the year and is really playing his best football. He’s done a great job. He’s been in and out of different roles in the whole offense and different positions, different formations. He’s had to learn a lot of different spots. He’s willing to do whatever it takes. He’s doing great and I love being out there with him.”

Amendola isn’t Brady’s favorite target — that honor goes to “Minitron” Julian Edelman — but Amendola might be even more important to the Patriots’ success on Sunday against the Broncos. He likely will be covered by injured Broncos cornerback Chris Harris‘ replacement, meaning Amendola will have the most favorable matchup of any Patriots receiver, even though he might not know who exactly will be covering him.

Amendola’s season can’t be seen as an utter disappointment for many reasons, but chief among them right now is how important the receiver is to the future of the Patriots’ playoff success. Still, despite Amendola’s success, he can’t say he’s completely pleased with how it’s gone.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Amendola said. “You can always learn something whether you lose or you win. Just trying to get better everyday. That’s not gonna change.”

Neither are the cliches thrown around the Patriots’ locker room, no matter who’s lining up in the slot.

Amendola might not have caught 100 passes or gained 1,000 yards like Edelman did, but he’s shown glimpses of the receiver the Patriots thought they were getting in training camp, when he appeared to be building chemistry with Brady by the minute. Amendola’s not at 100 percent yet, but he’s right in saying that he’s getting better everyday. The Patriots will just have to hope it’s good enough to beat the Broncos on Sunday.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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