Patriots

Amendola back at practice: 'This is the best I've felt in a long time'

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Amendola back at practice: 'This is the best I've felt in a long time'

FOXBORO -- Danny Amendola hasn't done much in Patriots practices since Day 1. More than a week and seven practices later, the 31-year-old wideout was back on the field looking like a full participant.

Though he's taken part in receiver drills and punt-return work previously, Saturday was his first time since catching eight passes for 78 yards and a score in Super Bowl LI that he's donned full pads and worked against defensive backs.

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Amendola indicated that the time he's spent away from the field recently hasn't been due to any lingering injury issue. Instead, it's been about managing his health so that he's ready at the right time.

"Sometimes the coaches do a good job of holding me back," he said following Saturday's rainy-day session. "If I was to get out there too soon or if I wasn’t ready or had something that was bothering me a little bit, I would play through it and sometimes it would make things worse. I feel like pace is a huge part of being successful through preseason and on into the season. I like to go full speed all the time. Right now, I’m kind of easing into and getting ready."

For a guy who's looked like he's shot out of a cannon during Tom Brady's Best Buddies flag football game in years past, having his workload dialed back to save him from himself probably isn't a terrible idea. When healthy, he's one of Brady's most trusted receivers, as evidenced by his 13 grabs for 126 yards, two scores and a two-point conversion in New England's last two Super Bowl victories. 

Amendola said on Saturday that even after earning another ring, he hasn't considered retirement.

"I still have more to play," he said. "My body feels really good. I feel the best I’ve felt in a long time. I’m excited to get out there and kind of get some reps, get some more plays into the preseason and go from there . . . 

"I want to play football for some more time. I’m not done yet. Wherever that may be, whatever it is, wherever it is, I want to play football at a high level, and this is where it’s going to be. I love it here. I’m going to try to make this team. I’m going to try to fill my role whatever that may be. Try to expand my role whatever that may be. Try to be here for my teammates and try to win games. That’s why I’m here."

Amendola was set to make $6 million in salary in 2017, though it was relatively clear he was not going to be playing for the Patriots under that contract the way it was structured. In April, news broke that he would re-do his deal with New England for the third time in as many years to save the Patriots $4.75 million in cap space. His $1.25 million base salary for 2017 is fully guaranteed and he could make as much as $1.7 million.

Why the willingness to take a reduced salary again, Amendola was asked?

"I love playing for this city. I love playing for this team," he said Saturday. "I love the atmosphere that coach [Bill Belichick] brings when we walk in the building every day. I want to play good football. I feel like this is the place where I’ll be able to challenge myself and play the best football I can. Ultimately, that’s why I’m here."

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EX-PATS PODCAST: How Belichick the perfectionist will find flaws in win vs. Raiders

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EX-PATS PODCAST: How Belichick the perfectionist will find flaws in win vs. Raiders

0:55 - Patriots playing great as they stream roll the Raiders but Koppen explains that Belichick will knock them down as he strives for perfection. Also talk about how it takes a couple months into the season for the coaches and players to learn each other again.

5:40 - Stephon Gilmore playing excellent lined up against Michael Crabtree. Malcolm Butler bounces back but gives up the only score to Amari Cooper. Koppen suggest Butler’s contract situation might be affecting his play. 

7:50 - All in on the Patriots defense yet? Giardi and Koppen discuss the defensive play and the upcoming offenses the Patriots will be facing.

10:30 - Dan Koppen talks about job security in the NFL and if he ever worried about somebody else taking his job, and the cutthroat nature of the Patriots. 

13:50 - Tom Brady picking apart the Raiders and Jack Del Rio’s defenses throughout his career. 

17:45 - A debate about Patriots backup quarterbacks and if Matt Cassel was actually a good NFL QB. 

21:20 - A few game notes: Rex Burkhead’s fumble vs. the Raiders, LaAdrian Waddle filling in for Marcus Cannon. 

Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

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Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

The first came in the second quarter, when Brandin Cooks turned on afterburners to beat a Raiders double team and glide underneath a Tom Brady heave for 52 yards. The second came in the third quarter, on the third play from scrimmage of the second half, when Cooks faked an out-route, jetted past rookie corner Obi Melifonwu, and sped into the end zone to make the score 24-0. 

Both deep completions in New England's 33-8 win over Oakland just added to cumulative effect that Cooks has had on the Patriots offense since arriving before the season to become their top deep threat. 

Paired with Brady, Cooks has actually become the most productive deep threat in the NFL. 

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According to Pro Football Focus, Cooks leads all receivers with 431 yards on deep passes (throws that travel 20 yards or more down the field). In second place is Houston's DeAndre Hopkins with 313 yards. 

And Brady, who has long been more effective in the short-to-intermediate range than he has been deep, is now among the league leaders in creating explosive plays from the quarterback position. The Patriots are third in the NFL with 41 pass plays of 20 yards or more, and they are tied for second with nine plays of 40 yards or more. 

"You're always trying to work on that," Brady told WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show of his team's deep passing game. "It's not one particular year [you work on it]. I think that's been a concerted effort by our entire offense, trying to make more explosive plays in the pass game. 

"Sometimes your offense is built differently. We actually have some guys now that can really get down the field so that becomes more of a point of emphasis. The way Brandin runs, the way that Chris Hogan runs, the way that Phillip Dorsett runs, they're very fast. You need to be able to take advantage of their skill set . . . 

"When we had David Patten we were throwing it deep. I mean, but David Patten didn't run a lot of short routes. I would say Brandin Cooks, in general, he doesn't run a lot of short routes. Everyone has a different role. If we can get by you, I think that's a good place to throw the ball. if we can't, we gotta figure out ways to throw it underneath and different weeks are going to call for different things based on the strengths of the defenses we're playing, too."

A week before beating the Raiders, against the Broncos and their talented corners, the Patriots had less luck pushing the ball down the field -- though they tried to hit Cooks deep multiple times. In Mexico City, Cooks matched up with a weaker secondary, and he wasn't at all slowed by the altitude, catching six passes in all for 149 yards and a score. 

Per PFF, Cooks has seen almost one third of his targets (30 percent) come on deep passes, which is the ninth-highest rate in the league. He's caught all 11 of his catchable deep passes, three of them accounting for scores.

"Obviously when you're throwing the ball 50-60 yards down the field," Brady said, "your chances of completion go down, but if you hit it, it ends up being a very explosive plays and you can change a lot of field position and get a defense really on their heels if they have to defend every blade of grass on the field." 

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