FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola averaged four catches and 44 yards per game this season. He had 11 catches for 112 yards Saturday in the Patriots’ 35-14 divisional-round win over the Tennessee Titans.
No one who has been paying attention since 2013 should be surprised.
This is what Amendola does. When he’s needed most, he steps up. Now that it’s playoff time, Amendola’s role will increase, his production will see an uptick, and he very well could be quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite target.
“I thought he played incredible,” Brady said of Amendola. “He made a lot of great catches. Those third downs were huge today. We talked about in the bye week of really trying to improve that.”
Despite an MVP-caliber season, it’s been obvious Brady has missed Julian Edelman, who tore his ACL in August. Brady has adapted by throwing to Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks and his running backs, but the Patriots’ offense really ticks when it has a dependable slot receiver who can be heavily targeted and read his quarterback’s mind.
Amendola probably can’t take on an Edelman-esque workload over the course of a full season, but when the playoffs roll around, he’s a different player.
“He works his tail off and he’s just Danny ‘Playoff’ Amendola,” Gronkowski said. “For real. Every time the playoffs come, big games, he’s always there. He’s always stepping up his game. He’s a great player, great teammate, great dude, so it’s great to see that.”
Amendola doesn’t only get the job done on offense; he also handles punt returns for the Patriots. The slot man had three returns for 27 yards Saturday.
Head coach Bill Belichick loves that kind of versatility.
“Danny does a great job for us,” Belichick said. “His ball handling, his reliability, dependability is exceptional. Handling the ball on these punts in conditions like (Saturday night), it’s not easy. And, as we saw, there were several times when he had guys breathing right down on top of him, standing right there when he was catching the ball, so it just put a little more pressure on it. But Danny has great concentration, tough, really a smart football player, makes good decisions, good judgment, knows how to get open, makes some big catches in tough situations.
So, he’s kind of guy you take for granted, but he delivered a lot (Saturday night), as he always does.”
One play stood out Saturday that highlights what Amendola brings to the offense, and it came on third-and-10 with 13:42 left in the fourth quarter when the Patriots already were leading 28-7.
The Patriots had to improvise, as Brady extended the play with his feet.
“The fade away? Yeah, I knew he was coming to me the whole time,” Amendola joked. “No, we locked eyes early, and I could tell he was thinking about it. I kept running, and I knew I had a couple yards, and he looked back again, and he let it go, and it ended up working out.”
Amendola referred to it as a “second route.”
But wait: How did he know Brady was thinking about it?
“He looked at me, and I could tell,” Amendola said, laughing.
It all comes down to chemistry.
“No question. We’ve played a lot of football (together), and not only Tom and I but a lot of guys in this locker room. We have a lot of faith with each other.”
It helps to have a guy in the offense who’s been around for five seasons whom Brady knows he can trust. And at no time is that trust more evident than when the QB needs a play on third down.
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