The circumstances obviously were much different — and the stakes much lower — but Bill Belichick saw flashes of Troy Brown in Danny Amendola’s 40-yard punt return last Thursday night.
In his weekly “Belichick Breakdown” segment on Patriots.com, the New England coach drew parallels between Amendola’s return and the runback Brown had against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2001 AFC Championship Game.
Amendola’s 40-yard return helped set up a Patriots field goal their 19-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Brown scored a touchdown on his return, sparking the Patriots to an upset victory over the heavily favored Steelers.
How were the two plays similar?
For starters, both featured a gunner being penalized for running out of bounds. On Brown’s return, the player stepped out voluntarily, resulting in a 5-yard penalty and a re-kick, which the Patriots capitalized on.
On Amendola’s return, Tampa Bay coverage man Ryan Smith did not return to the field quickly enough after Patrick Chung and Johnson Bademosi drove him out of bounds, resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a free 15 yards for the Patriots.
As for the returns themselves, Belichick pointed to the neutralizing of the gunners, good ball control by Brown and Amendola and solid blocks by the rest of the return team — players like Larry Izzo, Matt Chatham, Patrick Pass and Ty Law in 2001 and Nate Ebner, Jordan Richards, Brandon King and Matthew Slater in 2017.
“I know a lot of times on punt returns, people think it’s just the returner making three or four guys miss,” Belichick told host Scott Zolak. “And that certainly can happen. But there’s actually some organization to the chaos that’s going on.”
It’s no surprise that Belichick, a special teams connoisseur, would appreciate the little things done to make these two returns possible. His favorite part? Antwan Harris and Terrell Buckley blocking gunner Troy Edwards back into his own end zone on Brown’s return.
“That’s about as good as a gunner can be blocked right there,” Belichick said. “These guys should be on the porch (in) the Hall of Fame just for that block alone.”
Watch the full video, which also includes breakdowns of Dion Lewis’ 31-yard run and a short-yardage defensive stand by the Patriots, right here. (Belichick’s breakdown of Amendola’s return starts at the 4:30 mark).
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images