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Adam Kaufman

The Morning After: Patriots Give Us Another Reason They’re Unbeatable

Danny Amendola 5.jpg

Okay, I suppose that’s a stretch; the Patriots were very beatable in the Meadowlands on Sunday, which is why the popular phrasing today will be, “the Pats survived the Jets.”

If Vince Wilfork doesn’t get his paw on Nick Folk’s 52-yard field goal try with just over five minutes to play and the Patriots ahead 17-16, there’s a real chance we’re talking about Rex Ryan’s last laugh in an otherwise very one-sided rivalry that wound up resulting in seven New England wins over New York in their final eight meetings.

But, I’ll guarantee you this:

Without the contributions of Danny Amendola, the Pats definitely wouldn’t have woken up winners this morning.

Yes, Amendola.

Before the story, a premonition?

With reliable top receiver and receptions-leader (92) Julian Edelman out with a concussion and a thigh injury, the sixth-year Amendola’s workload increased considerably in his team’s one-point victory. The slot receiver and special teams contributor entered the game averaging 26 snaps per game, but played 44 on offense (more than his previous three games against the Dolphins, Chargers, and Packers combined; 42).

Along the way, he caught a game-high eight balls for 63 yards, just a fraction of his 217 all-purpose yards (which also included 91 yards on kick returns and 63 on punts – an average of 19.3 yards per return overall).

Those are just numbers, though; they really don’t tell the story of Amendola’s one-week ascent.

With the game scoreless in the second, Amendola returned a 57-yard Ryan Quigley punt 39 yards to the Jets 36. Six plays and 36 yards later – including a key seven-yard grab by the oft-criticized wideout on 3rd-and-3 to extend the drive – Tom Brady found Rob Gronkowski for a three-yard touchdown.

Pats ahead, 7-0.

Amendola’s fourth quarter, however, was far more meaningful.

Following Wilfork’s key block, the Patriots took over possession with 5:16 to play, on a day when Brady struggled (23-for-35 for 182 yards, a TD, and an interception) and the offensive line was an embarrassment (Brady was sacked four times, hit 11, and his team averaged 3.5 yards per carry for 85 yards).

Amendola, targeted a game-best 11 times, extended yet another drive from his own 45-yard line with a seven-yard gain on 3rd-and-7 with 4:38 left. The spot on the first-down was challenged by Ryan, but to no avail. Edelman’s replacement made two more catches for 19 yards later in the drive, and Brady began kneeling for losses with 1:41 remaining to kill off the rest of the clock.

In his second season in New England, Amendola has become a featured part of the special teams’ game but he’s gone from a punching bag on offense to a complete afterthought after being brought in to essentially replace Wes Welker, before Edelman filled that role. Health was an issue much of his first year but, this one, he’s been the victim of penalty flags negating big catches and, more often, game-plans.

Amendola entered Week 16 with 15 receptions for 113 yards; his season-highs had been three and 35, respectively. In fact, his eight grabs equaled the total from his previous six games in all.

“You’ve got a job to do every week. You have a role on the team,” Amendola said after the win. “If you’re suited up, you have something to do within the game-plan and you’ve got to do your job, whatever it is.”

Unprompted, but oh so fitting given the bumpy road he’s endured in Foxborough, the veteran added, “Never doubt yourself. Hell no!”

The Patriots needed exactly what they got from Amendola on Sunday. He played physical – he almost had his head knocked off! – and stepped up when few would have expected him to. Frankly, he was about the only one.

"[Amendola] did a great job, and he's been really looking for this opportunity," Brady said. "I thought he did a great job in there in the role that he played. He's a very good player for us. He did a good job returning some great kicks and punts. It will be good to get [Edelman] back next week. Hopefully we can get him back next week."

Of course it will. Amendola isn’t Edelman, and he never will be in this offense so long as both players are here and healthy. To that end, the depth chart is set.

His performance, though, was the latest example of the Pats’ “Next man up” mentality coming to fruition. We saw it to a lesser degree Sunday with Jonas Gray’s touchdown absent LeGarrette Blount – another man worthy of that distinction since Stevan Ridley went down for the season with a knee injury – and we’ve witnessed it throughout the season on both sides of the ball in the trenches.

We already know New England is capable of big things, given its 12-3 record and stretch of 10 wins in 11 games to secure an NFL-best fifth straight playoff bye, but performances like what the Patriots received from Amendola when they absolutely needed it might lead you to believe the club is destined for that trip to Glendale in February.

“We all count on each other,” said coach Bill Belichick, who improved to 9-4 in his career against Ryan, dating back to 2009. “Each guy has got an opportunity to help us and, one way or another, you never know when it is or how it’s gonna turn out, but when we need them, we need them. They continue to step up; different guys, different situations, different phases of the game.”

If the Broncos fall in Cincinnati tonight, the Pats will have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Otherwise, they can achieve the feat with a win over the Bills next weekend.

Odds are, this will play out in the Patriots’ favor, leaving a rematch with the Broncos in the AFC Championship a real possibility in late-January, only this time at Gillette. Barring significant injury, who would pick against New England at this point, especially when you look at who’s risen to the occasion in a pinch?

There’s no telling if Amendola can make a habit of Sunday’s performance if Edelman’s concussion lingers but, with big games on the horizon, it’s calming to know he’s capable.

“Everybody’s got a job to do, no matter what it is,” stated Amendola. “I’m just trying to do my job.”

Job well done.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman and email me here.

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