There were few sure things for the New England Patriots’ offense on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.
But for the better part of three quarters, Danny Amendola was one of the few.
Amendola, who exited with a head injury and was ruled out for the final frame, looked the part of Tom Brady’s most trusted target long before then. And in the absence of Julian Edelman, as well as fellow wideout Malcolm Mitchell, the 31-year-old played the part, too.
Despite being on the field for only 32 of 81 snaps against the Kansas City Chiefs, Amendola proved to be on the same page as his quarterback. He turned six of the seven passes Brady sent his way into completions. And he turned them into an even 100 yards and four first downs.
When Brady looked elsewhere against the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense, no connection could be deemed more than spotty.
Brady went 10-of-29 passing for 167 yards and seven first downs when throwing to James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen. Fifty-four of Cooks’ 88 yards came on one shot down the left sideline, and White and Gronkowski combined for 63 yards on five catches.
Hogan and Burkhead, meanwhile, accounted for one eight-yard grab apiece. Dorsett and Allen accounted for none.
It was a discrepancy that the Patriots were unable to dig themselves out of – with little help from a defensive side that conceded 537 yards and 42 points – ultimately losing their first home opener in nine regular seasons. And although New England did manage to register three touchdowns on the ground courtesy of Mike Gillislee, Brady finished without one through the air for the first time since last winter’s 16-3 win over the Denver Broncos.
Whether that was the Chiefs, the personnel, the playcalling, the performance or the blend of all, it was evident the Patriots sorely missed Edelman’s 159 targets from a season ago.
And Amendola was the closest thing the passing attack had to a familiar identity.
That was seen as No. 80 picked up 16 yards on a second-and-5 flat route, five yards on a third-and-6 drag, and 27 yards on a second-and-7 post – all before the end of the first quarter. Amendola’s three catches in the first 15 minutes stood as more than he had in eight of his 12 regular-season games last year. His 48 yards by that juncture already matched his single-game best from the 2016 slate.
The third man in the three-receiver set would continue to add with immediacy.
In the second quarter on third-and-2, Amendola swung a quick-out pattern for 22 yards to bring him to 70 for the game – a higher output than he’d reached in every contest last year outside of Super Bowl LI.
In the third, he gathered a second-and-10 screen and took it eight yards before fumbling, and netted 22 more yards deep over the middle on a first-and-10.
But Amendola’s night ended early. And that’s where the focus pans to now on a depth chart whittled to three by the time the 42-27 score became final Thursday. Though by then, the fifth-year Patriot, who also stepped in as punt returner, had left as much of a mark as he could have.
SIX-PLUS CATCHES WITH PATRIOTS
- Sept. 8, 2013 vs. Bills: 10
- Nov. 8, 2013 vs. Panthers: 6
- Dec. 15, 2013 vs. Dolphins: 10
- Dec. 21, 2014 vs. Jets: 8
- Oct. 18, 2015 vs. Colts: 7
- Oct. 25, 2015 vs. Jets: 8
- Nov. 15, 2015 vs. Giants: 10
- Nov. 25, 2015 vs. Bills: 9
- Dec. 6, 2015 vs. Eagles: 7
- Dec. 13, 2015 vs. Texans: 6
- Feb. 5, 2017 vs. Falcons: 8
- Sep. 8, 2017 vs. Chiefs: 6
Amendola collected six receptions for the first time in regular-season action since New England faced the Houston Texans on Dec. 13, 2015. The loss to Kansas City checked in as his 12th game with at least six receptions since signing on in March of 2013.
With the volume, Amendola scampered for his sixth 100-yard showing in a Patriots uniform, eighth since entering the league as an undrafted rookie out of Texas Tech in 2008, and first since Nov. 23, 2015 versus the Buffalo Bills.
CENTURY-MARK GAMES WITH PATRIOTS
- Sept. 8, 2013 vs. Bills: 104
- Nov. 3, 2013 vs. Steelers: 122
- Dec. 15, 2013 vs. Dolphins: 131
- Oct. 18, 2015 vs. Colts: 105
- Nov. 23, 2015 vs. Bills: 117
- Sept. 8, 2017 vs. Chiefs: 100
Amendola had 26 percent of his 2016 receptions and 41 percent of his 2016 receiving yards in one game’s work.
That does little to serve as a silver lining to injury or defeat. It does, however, reflect Amendola’s current value to New England’s attack.
The longest-tenured wideout remaining is as integral as he’s ever been. And now the gameplan shifts to Sept. 17 against the New Orleans Saints, with or without him available for it.