FOXBORO, Mass. — All week leading up to the AFC Championship Game, a reporter kept asking New England Patriots players if the team had a secret weapon.
The reporter would cite “scuttlebutt” out of Jacksonville that wide receiver Danny Amendola is just that for the Patriots. Finding such a quote from Jaguars players has proven to be fruitless.
Perhaps Amendola really was a secret. Because down the stretch, as the Patriots beat the Jaguars 24-20 at Gillette Stadium without All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, who suffered a concussion in the first half, Amendola was everywhere. And the Jaguars didn’t have an answer for him as the Patriots won their eighth AFC title since 2001, vaulting them into Super Bowl LII against an opponent to be decided.
Of course, it’s tough to have an answer for a player who’s making diving catches, pulling footballs off his shoelaces and miraculously tapping two toes in the back of the end zone for touchdowns.
Amendola, and quarterback Tom Brady, reportedly playing with 10 stitches and a sprained thumb on his throwing hand, were the heroes of the game.
Amendola caught seven passes for 84 yards with two touchdowns. He also completed a 20-yard pass and rushed for 3 yards. Brady completed 26-of-38 passes for 290 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Patriots had to dig themselves out of a 14-3 hole to win. Later, they trailed 20-10 early in the fourth quarter.
Cats, not Patriots, are supposed to have nine lives.
Credit goes out to the defense, as well. They put the Patriots in that 14-3 hole then stopped the Jaguars from shoveling dirt on top of it. It was far from a perfect performance by the defense. No one will be calling them elite after this game, but they came up clutch when it mattered, stopping the Jaguars from mounting a late comeback when Kyle Van Noy and James Harrison combined for a sack followed by a brilliant pass breakup by cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Running back Dion Lewis clinched the game with an 18-yard run before Brady kneeled on the ball to drain the clock.
The Patriots’ reign of success is not over, even if it looked like that 25 minutes into the game.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images