Even if his numbers may not always show it, Danny Amendola is always an integral part of what the Patriots are doing offensively.
If Tom Brady says it, it must be true.
In the midst of yet another Herculean showing in the postseason, Amendola is as important now to the New England offense as he’s been in his entire five-year tenure with the team.
“I’m always looking for him at some point,” Brady said of Amendola last week. “I mean, he’s a big part of what we do, so he’s never not part of what we’re doing. He’s a huge part of what we’re doing, always.”
Without Rob Gronkowski for much of the game and without Julian Edelman for the entire season, there was only one player Brady could truly rely on to help rally the Patriots from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit in the AFC Championship Game.
Amendola had seven catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns, each of them coming in the final 8:44 of regulation. The degree of difficulty for his second touchdown, which helped New England to a 24-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, was significant. Amendola had to tap both feet down along the back of the end zone all while securing possession of the ball and surviving the ground.
“The guy has maybe the best hand-eye coordination of any player I’ve ever played with,” teammate Matthew Slater said. “And I played with Randy Moss.”
All in a day’s work for Danny “Playoff” Amendola, as Gronkowski anointed him after an 11-catch, 112-yard performance against the Tennessee Titans in the previous round of the postseason.
Unlike his playoff self, there are no nicknames for any of Amendola’s postseason catches. No signature catch or moment that will be on his football epitaph, at least not yet. No “Immaculate Reception,” no “Helmet Catch,” no “The Catch.”
There’s simply volume in the most important of moments. All six of Amendola’s playoff touchdown receptions in the postseason have come with the Patriots trailing, all during games which New England would storm back to win.
That figure doesn’t even include Amendola’s catch on the two-point conversion to tie Super Bowl LI at 28-apiece with less than a minute to go, sending the game to overtime.
It’s almost unheard of, considering how Amendola’s Patriots career began.
Signed on the second day of free agency in 2013 via the St. Louis Rams to a five-year, $31 million contract, Amendola was essentially signed to be Wes Welker’s replacement. Welker, New England’s all-time leader in receptions with 672 (second-place Troy Brown is more than 100 catches back), had gone to one of the Patriots’ chief competitors at the time in the Denver Broncos on a much-smaller two-year, $12 million deal.
Like so many times before, Bill Belichick proved to have moved on from a player a year early rather than a year late. Welker was still very productive his first year with the Broncos (73 catches, 778 yards and a career-high 10 touchdowns), but never came even close to replicating the numbers he put up out of the slot for New England from 2007-2012. He was out of the league after an eight-game cameo with the Rams in 2015.
The thing was, while Belichick had nailed the timing of Welker’s departure…it looked as though his replacement was on the Patriots’ roster all along in Edelman.
In an offense that no longer featured Welker, not to mention Aaron Hernandez (or Gronkowski, who missed nine games plus the postseason with an injury), Edelman became The Man in 2013. He broke out with a career-best 105 receptions and 1,056 yards.
Amendola was fine his first year in New England, catching 54 passes for 633 yards – numbers that could have been even better if not for the four games he missed due to injury.
It was hardly the first time Amendola failed to play in 16 games. He’d done so just once before, in 2010. He missed all but one game in 2011 and missed five more in 2012 before hitting the open market. For a team that had erred on the side of caution during free agency more often than not, was Amendola shaping up to be one of the largest sunken costs in team history?
Amendola played in all 16 games for the Patriots in 2014 but saw his snap count fall from 572 to 456, a 22 percent drop. So, it’s fitting in a sense that the player who had seemingly usurped his role served up a reminder of just how valuable Amendola could be in New England’s AFC Divisional Round game against the Baltimore Ravens that January.
Amendola had already caught one touchdown pass in the game, a 15-yarder from Brady to help the Patriots pull even with the Ravens, 14-14. But Baltimore scored two more touchdowns without an answer from New England, reclaiming a 14-point lead. Down 28-21 after a Gronk score sliced into the Ravens edge, Amendola went deep while Brady threw a screen pass to Edelman.
Rather than waiting for the blocking to develop downfield, Edelman was waiting for something else in the secondary: for Amendola to get open. Edelman, a former college quarterback at Kent State University, read the coverage perfectly and dropped a dime to Amendola as he burned by Rashaan Melvin and Anthony Levine to help the Patriots tie the game yet again.
The foundation for Gronkowski’s moniker, Danny “Playoff” Amendola, had been laid.
“I hadn’t really thought about it, man,” Amendola said when asked about the role he’s carved out in New England’s offense. “Whatever they ask me to do, wherever they want me to go, I listen to them and I do it to the best of my abilities.”
Amendola went on to catch a touchdown pass from Brady in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks and grabbed another from Brady in Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons. He’s one of only three players to catch a touchdown pass from Brady in multiple Super Bowls (David Givens, Mike Vrabel).
Since his 2014 postseason breakout, Amendola’s regular season production has been steady – particularly in 2015 and this past season. The numbers are almost as identical as his teammates, twins Jacob and Cody Hollister; Amendola caught 65 passes for 648 yards in ’15 and 61 passes for 659 yards in ’17. The contributions this season without Edelman or Malcolm Mitchell around were essential for the Patriots to get back to the Super Bowl.
The numbers have been particularly strong at the restructured contract rates Amendola has agreed to in each of the last three seasons. Per Spotrac, Amendola will have made roughly $17.5 million in cash over the course of his five years with the Patriots, or about 56 percent of what he was originally slated to earn.
“He’s a selfless guy,” Slater said. “He’s always been a team-first guy. Anyone who’s been around him for any amount of time can see that. He loves to win, he loves to compete, we’re fortunate to have him.”
There’s no longer an element of surprise involved with Amendola, if there ever was one to begin with.
“That’s expected out of Danny, he’s an amazing player,” guard Shaq Mason said. “When he does those type of things, it doesn’t surprise me one bit.”
“You got 12 [Brady] throwing the ball and 80 [Amendola] catching it, 10 times out of 10 I’m gonna put my money on it,” defensive end Trey Flowers added.
Five years after joining the Patriots, Amendola’s legacy is safe as one of the top performers in the team’s lengthy postseason history in the 21st century. After Brady, who has been the most reliable offensive player, time and time again for New England?
There’s no more contract to restructure after Super Bowl LII on Sunday. Amendola could always re-sign with the Patriots for below market value – again – or he could try to cash in one last time elsewhere, and no one could fault him for a second.
He could even choose to retire. At 32, considering the punishment his body has taken over a whirlwind 10-year career in the NFL, he’s much closer to the end of his career than the beginning.
If he does decide to hang around the league a little longer, Foxboro is as good a place as any for Amendola, and he knows it.
“I like the atmosphere in the building when I walk in every day,” Amendola said. “I know I’m going to play my best football here, so that’s why I’m here.”