FOXBORO, Mass. — New Englanders thought they were getting the next Wes Welker when the Patriots signed Danny Amendola in the 2013 offseason. Amendola has never come close to matching Welker’s pure production in New England’s offense, but he’ll go down in Patriots lore just as beloved.
Amendola put on a show Sunday in the Patriots’ 24-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game as New England qualified for Super Bowl LII. He caught seven passes on nine targets for 84 yards with two touchdowns. This came a week and a day after he caught 11 passes on 13 targets for 112 yards in the Patriots’ divisional-round win over the Tennessee Titans.
The Patriots desperately needed him Sunday. They trailed the Jaguars for over 41 minutes until Amendola caught the go-ahead toe-tapping touchdown from quarterback Tom Brady to put the Patriots ahead 24-20. He also caught the touchdown that cut the Jaguars’ lead to 20-17 that made Patriots fans perk up in Gillette Stadium and believe another comeback win was on the way.
Brady mounted this comeback without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who suffered a concussion in the first half. He did it without Julian Edelman, who tore his ACL in August. He did it with Amendola.
“He’s got great hands and just a great sense about where he’s at on the field,” Brady said. “So, I mean, he’s made so many big plays for us, and this was huge, and without that, we don’t win. It was an incredible play.”
Amendola’s performance shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. He tends to do this in the playoffs. And given his increased role on the team, he’s going to see more targets from Brady. This is the same receiver who had 48 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX win over the Seattle Seahawks. The same Amendola who caught eight passes for 78 yards and a touchdown in New England’s Super Bowl LI win over the Atlanta Falcons.
So what allows him to produce like this when games matter most?
“It’s a lot about preparation, circumstance, opportunity, being ready and no fear,” Amendola said. “Just get out there and get it done. That’s what we’re all about in this building.”
Head coach Bill Belichick paid him the highest of compliments after the game.
“Danny’s such a good football player,” Belichick said. “When you look up ‘good football player’ in the dictionary his picture is right there beside it. It doesn’t matter what it is. Fielding punts, third down, big play, red area, onside kick recovery — whatever we need him to do. He’s just a tremendous player, very instinctive, tough, great concentration. He had some big plays for us today.”
Amendola probably will never have a 1,000-yard season with the Patriots; Welker had five. He’ll probably never have a 100-catch season; Welker had five. But he comes up big when it matters. He’s clutch.
We’re in an era where “freezing cold takes” get exposed. A fan post on PatsPulpit.com by Tian Rossi might be freezing the coldest Sunday night. It was titled, “Has there ever been a worse universally beloved Patriots player than Danny Amendola?” It made the argument that Amendola didn’t live up to his five-year, $28.5 million contract even after he took numerous pay cuts.
Amendola has lived up to that deal and more.
“I’m thankful for my opportunity here and what it’s been the last five years,” Amendola said Sunday. “I have a lot of great memories here. Any negative thing or anything that’s tried to hinder me, I try to ignore and focus on the positive things that have been going on in this building for the last five years for me. I’ve tried to build off that and be a good teammate and that’s the only thing I really focus on.”