FOXBORO, Mass. — Danny Amendola is in the process of proving doubters wrong as the New England Patriots’ season reaches its apex.
There were valid questions whether Amendola and fellow undersized receiver Julian Edelman could co-exist in the Patriots’ offense. Edelman has had two consecutive breakout seasons while Amendola became an afterthought as the team’s No. 3 receiver in 2014.
Amendola, playing a full 16-game season for just the second time in his six-year career, had caught just 15 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown through 14 games. Edelman missed the Patriots’ final two games, which sparked a 12-catch, 87-yard outburst out of Amendola in Weeks 16 and 17.
Still, Amendola ranked dead last among NFL receivers with at least 290 snaps in Pro Football Focus’ yards per route run metric with .67 during the regular season. For comparison’s sake, tight end Rob Gronkowski led the Patriots with 2.53 yards per route run, and Edelman finished second on the team with 1.90.
Amendola had his best game of the season, and one of his best as a Patriot, Saturday in New England’s 35-31 divisional-round playoff win over the Baltimore Ravens, catching five passes on six targets for 80 yards and two touchdowns, including one from his buddy Edelman.
So, did Amendola’s increased role in Week 16 and 17 spark some momentum heading into the playoffs?
“Every game you want to play well regardless of the situation,” Amendola offered Saturday night in the Patriots locker room.
Amendola was extremely important Saturday because he offered quarterback Tom Brady another weapon who could get open quickly off the line of scrimmage. With no semblance of a rushing attack, Edelman and Amendola were Brady’s go-tos as dependable short-yardage targets.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has maintained all season that Amendola continued to work hard despite taking on a smaller role this season.
“He’s a guy that’s been a real good player for us all year, really competitive,” Belichick said Saturday after the Patriots’ win. “Nobody works harder in practice. He’s made some huge plays for us.”
That hard work finally is paying off for Amendola, and without his two touchdowns against the Ravens, and his ability to fight for extra yards, the Patriots might not be facing the Colts in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.
“It’s encouraging to me,” Amendola said about Belichick’s praise. “It’s important to work hard. It’s really — I wouldn’t be in the position I am today if I don’t work hard. It’s the way I’ve been my whole life.”
Belichick offered a similar quote about Edelman on Wednesday, though, saying “nobody works harder than Julian.” So, who is it?
“Jules works hard. I don’t know,” Amendola said. “We’ll have a work-off today for sure.”
Amendola came to the Patriots under nearly impossible circumstances. He was expected to replace Wes Welker after signing a big contract last offseason, but a painful groin injury opened the door for Edelman to break out. Amendola still has a chance to win Patriots fans’ hearts during the playoffs if his late-season tear continues.
“I think Danny has been ready all year,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Monday. “He’s had more opportunities in some games than others but has always maintained a great work ethic and attitude, comes to work and prepares hard each week, really is ready to go for his role in the game, however big or small it may be.
“So, very happy for him the other night that he had the success that he did, but wasn’t surprised by it because of the way he’s approached every day since he’s been here. Love having him here, and obviously he’s a big part of our success on offense.”
Thumbnail photo via Charles Krupa/Associated Press
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