Patriots

Giardi: Amendola proves once again his importance to Patriots offense

Giardi: Amendola proves once again his importance to Patriots offense

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady gets a ton of the credit for Sunday’s fourth-quarter, come-from-behind victory over the Texans. That makes sense. He’s the greatest of all-time. He’s been there and done that before. 51 times. Or is it 21? Doesn’t really matter. You get the point. Brady is the lynchpin.

But he can’t do it alone. 

“I feel like everyone in that huddle made plays that drive,” said Rob Gronkowski. “Everyone came together to make the plays to help us win. It just shows how big of a team game this is, NFL football.”

Danny Amendola is a critical piece of this team. How many times have we seen the little guy play big? After missing the game in New Orleans with both the lingering effects of a concussion and a knee injury, the belief was that the Patriots would do a better job of managing the 31-year old. But as was the case in the opener, there’s just too much ability -- too much faith in that ability -- to keep Amendola on the sideline for too long. 

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He played 32 snaps and had a couple of electric punt returns. But what he’ll most be remembered for this weekend was his terrific catch on third-and-18 during that game-winning drive. Amendola wasn’t open when that ball left Brady’s hands. But Brady knew there was a clearing on the right side. More importantly, he knew Amendola would either get it or make sure no one on the Texans did. Amendola got it, like he almost always does.

“I got a job to do when i’m out there,” said Amendola Sunday. “It’s good to be back. Missed it last week. It was fun running around, trying to make some plays.”

Amendola has made so many, too many to list. Off the top of my head, there’s the touchdown catch and the two-point conversion in Super Bowl 51, the touchdown catch in Super Bowl 49 that set the stage for Julian Edelman’s game-winner. Want more? How about the pair of TDs in the Divisional Round win over Baltimore back in 2015? Those are some of the biggest games in franchise history. Amendola has played a major role. 

“There’s no question that I think Danny Amendola has demonstrated his ability to make plays under pressure, perform in critical situations and help us win games.” said Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels Tuesday. “I have a lot of confidence in him.”

So does the quarterback, as demonstrated by all those plays and by the fact that he has campaigned for the pint-sized slot wideout to stay in New England when he could have easily walked away. Amendola is clutch. Just like Brady. Does McDaniels believe in such a thing?

“I believe in guys performing under pressure, and some may tend to do that maybe more,” he said. “But, I also believe that a lot of the plays that people make in critical situations or at the end of games are generally the result of a lot of people doing good things. Certainly, guys have to make – everybody sees the person that catches the ball, but I would also there’s a lot of things that are happening that maybe don’t get the same amount of recognition in those types of situations that are just as clutch, if not more in some cases, that allow the play to happen.”

It takes a team, but to have one as good as this, you need someone like Amendola. Someone who is constantly grinding, constantly putting it on the line, and - inevitably - delivering the goods, just like he did Sunday, just like he has so many times before.

Steelers' great escapes - resilience or luck?

Steelers' great escapes - resilience or luck?

FOXBORO - The Steelers have done what they were "supposed to do." Barely.
 
That's how Mike Tomlin put it two weeks ago when he spoke about holding serve until his team's Week 15 matchup with the Patriots. Then as long as the winner of that game wins out, Tomlin explained in his interview with NBC's Tony Dungy for Football Night in America, the site of the AFC title game will be decided.

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Since that interview, the Steelers have won three games by a combined seven points. Their latest triumph came on Sunday night, a skin-of-their-teeth, hold-onto-your-butts, 39-38 comeback win over the Ravens. In Week 13, they nipped the Bengals in a brutal affair, 23-20. In Week 12, they escaped a primetime matchup with the Brett Hundley-led Packers, 31-28. 
 
Eight Steelers games this season have been decided by a touchdown or less. Tomlin's team is 7-1 in those games, including close victories over the Colts, Lions, Chiefs and Browns. 
 
There are two ways of looking at those numbers. The first? The Steelers are clutch. The second? That kind of close-and-late success is not sustainable. 
 
In all likelihood, a regression is coming. 
 
The Steelers defense, now forced to go without top linebacker Ryan Shazier, will probably be the culprit whenever that regression hits. Pittsburgh allowed the Ravens to pick up 6.7 yards per play and 5.8 yards per carry, and it gave up four touchdowns on Joe Flacco's four red-zone trips Sunday night. Against an offense that ranked in the bottom third of the league, according to Football Outsiders DVOA going into the game, that's an out-and-out problem.
 
The Patriots (10-3), unlike the Steelers (11-2), didn’t do what they “supposed to do” in Miami on Monday, and enter the showdown a game behind the Steelers. Still, this game at Heinz Field is the one that matters. It would give the Patriots the tiebreaker over the Steelers, and all Bill Belichick's team would have to do after that is what it would be expected to do: Win out, beat the Bills and Jets, and earn home-field advantage through the AFC Championship Game. 
 
Of course, what you're supposed to do and actually doing it are two very different things -- just ask the Steelers. So maybe Monday night in Miami was more important than it seemed. 

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Tomlin/Steelers vs. Belichick/Patriots: Different strokes for different folks

Tomlin/Steelers vs. Belichick/Patriots: Different strokes for different folks

FOXBORO -- Mike Tomlin has been Pittsburgh’s head coach since 2007, named to the post at the ripe old age of 35. A year later, he and the Steelers won a Super Bowl.

More Lombardi Trophies seemed certain to follow, but -- despite a half-dozen seasons of 10 wins or more -- Pittsburgh and that stacked roster has come up short ever since, including an AFC Championship Game loss at New England last season.

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You might think that would dim Tomlin’s confidence. No chance. He may be a decade older, but he still has oodles of swagger. We saw that earlier in the year when during an interview with Tony Dungy prior to Sunday Night Football, he admitted to looking ahead to the Steelers’ matchup with the Pats.

"I'm going to embrace the elephant in the room. (The game) going to be fireworks," Tomlin said in that conversation. "And it's probably going to be Part 1. That's going to be a big game. But probably, if we're both doing what we're supposed to, the second one is really going to be a big game. Then what happens in the first is going to set up the second one, which is going to determine the location of the second one."

You’d never hear Bill Belichick go that route and he’s won five Super Bowls here in New England. We are now conditioned to believe that’s not only the right way but the only way to do business. I would tend to agree. History doesn’t lie.

Tomlin, however. isn’t adopting Belichick’s public approach. He says he’ll be forthright with the media because he’s doing what he’s supposed to do in his job. Perhaps that’s a little jab at Belichick and the Pats, who have long been less than forthcoming.

“I don’t know if any of us were looking ahead, to be quite honest with you," he said "That was the way it was described by (the media). We were simply answering questions. We were doing our professional due diligence. When we do interviews and people ask us about potential big games down the road, we’re going to politely answer questions and do so honestly. That’s not us down the road, that is us simply performing our professional duties.”

An exuberant fellow, Tomlin thinks it’s foolish to not admit there are larger things at play during the course of a season.

“If you set out on the season to be world champs, obviously you’re going to play in significant games along the way,” he said. “The road gets increasingly narrower. That is part of being [on] the pursuit of a world championship play. It’s ridiculous to goal set and not to acknowledge natural things that occur along the way if you are committed to the pursuit of your goals.”

To reach those goals, Tomlin’s Steelers usually need to go through the Patriots. This season is no different. Right now, Pittsburgh is the top seed in the AFC. The Pats are number two but can reclaim that spot with a win Sunday afternoon.

The Patriots may not have a real rival in the AFC East, but what they have with the Steelers is real.

“It's an awesome thing to be a part of," said Tomlin. "Not something that I or we take for granted. To be in significant games is just part of chasing what it is that we're chasing and to have a routine dance partner that just speaks to their commitment and achievements in similar ways. We're excited to be a part of it. We don't take it for granted. We realize that these type games are just part of what we desire to be.”

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