When the New England Patriots lost wide receiver Julian Edelman to a season-ending knee injury in week three of the preseason, the team had to look elsewhere to fill his role. It turned to a man who has experience in a) filling Edelman's shoes and b) answering when his number is called upon: Danny Amendola, one of Edelman's closest friends and the most experienced wide receiver left on New England's roster.
Amendola had replaced Edelman before. In 2015, when New England's top wide receive broke his foot and subsequently missed the Patriots' final seven regular season contests, he moved up and delivered. The veteran, who caught 30 passes prior to Edelman's injury, added 35 more to his collection with the starter on the sidelines. So far, the 2017 season appears to be more of the same for Amendola.
Despite missing the Patriots' week two game in New Orleans, Amendola is tied for second one the team with 23 catches – already tying his regular season total from a year ago. He turned those catches into 267 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, though, he gives New England's offense a skill set similar to Edelman's: Amendola is able to get open quickly and on a consistent basis.
This is no surprise considering that he has done so in the past – and head coach Bill Belichick agreed in a recent conference call. “I think Danny's been one of our most dependable players since he's been here,” the coach said before going into the details of what constitutes this dependability. “He catches the ball well, returns kicks, blocks well, has good run-after-the-catch and return ability. I mean, he’s made those plays every year.”
Amendola indeed make those plays every year. Belichick went on to talk about his first regular season game with the Patriots, when Amendola caught 10 passes for 104 yards. “I don’t think we would’ve had much chance to win without the plays that he made on the last drive in Buffalo,” Belichick pointed out. Unfortunately for Amendola, the game against the Buffalo Bills did not only see the receiver's abilities but also something that has pulled him back at times: an injury.
Amendola hurt his groin on 2013 opening day and subsequently saw the above-mentioned Edelman become more and more involved in the offense – to a point where Amendola became a role player used in a distinct set of situations. For Belichick, however, this does not appear to be a problem. “Whatever the numbers are, they are [...] but I think when you look at a player like Danny you see a pretty dependable, consistent performer that gives us good plays every week”.
Last Thursday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Amendola did just that again. Quarterback Tom Brady threw him the football eight times with the pass being completed on every one of those targets. In the process, the 31-year old gained 77 yards and helped convert three third down attempts – to go along with 51 yards worth of punt returns.
“I thought Danny gave us a lot of critical plays in the game,” Belichick said of the versatile playmaker. “He gave us punt returns, some catches and he blocked well. He had a couple of key blocks in the running game, as well, so I thought he really did a solid job for us in all the areas, in all of the things that he was asked to do, which he usually does.”
What Belichick mentions in the last part of the sentence – “which he usually does” – has become a defining feature of Amendola's time with the Patriots: When called upon, he has made plays. Be it against the Buccaneers, in the Patriots' last two Super Bowl victories or multiple regular season games, Amendola has earned being called “clutch” for his ability to make a play when a play needs to be made.
In 2017, for example, Brady has looked Amendola's ways on 10 third and fourth down plays. The wideout caught nine of those passes for eight conversions (one of which a touchdown) – an example for how important a player he is in the Patriots' offensive machinery. Belichick echoed this thought during the conference call: “He's one of our best and most dependable players.”
As such, Amendola will continue to play a big role in the Patriots' passing offense moving forward. And if the past is any indication, he will also continue to make the important plays when called upon.