FOXBORO -- When it was over and an army of reporters and photographers in vests flooded the Gillette Stadium turf, Tom Brady was engulfed. Danny Amendola, meanwhile, was on the periphery, about 30 yards away from the 6-foot-4 eye of the storm, talking to one man with one microphone.
Amendola slowly worked his way toward the middle of the field, and after a few minutes he eventually met up with Brady at the bottom of the steps of a makeshift stage. Before they both stepped up to address the more than 70,000 people in attendance, they laughed. It was their longest-developing connection of the night.
"It means a lot, man," he told CBS' Jim Nantz moments later. "We put a lot of hard work into each week of the season and coming out here and getting a win each week. And we love playing at home, we love being in Foxboro, and we love you."
In that instant, Patriots fans of all types were probably returning the sentiment en masse. Amendola had just reeled in seven grabs for 84 yards and two scores, both of which came in the fourth quarter. The second put the Patriots ahead for the first time all night and gave them a 24-20 victory over the Jaguars to advance to Super Bowl LII.
"I’m going to enjoy it tonight, I know that," Amendola said. "We know what to expect. A lot of guys in this room have been in a situation like that before. We know what’s it’s going to take to get the work done the week of. We know what the expectations are, we know what the media are going to be like and we’re going to be ready."
With Rob Gronkowski out due to a head injury suffered in the second quarter, and with Julian Edelman long gone for the season, Amendola came into focus as Brady's top target, especially in critical situations.
There was the fourth-down conversion in the first quarter that led to a field goal. There was the third-and-18 completion with 10:49 left that kept New England's first fourth-quarter scoring drive alive. And there were the two touchdowns, a nine-yarder with just under nine minutes remaining and a toe-tapping four-yarder along the back end zone to take the lead with 2:48 to go.
"Yeah, it was great," Brady said of Amendola's game-winner. "He’s made so many big catches, and I saw he got the one foot in and I just saw it up on the big screen one time. He’s got great hands and just a great sense about where he’s at on the field. So, I mean, he’s made so many big plays for us, and this was huge, and without that, we don’t win. It was an incredible play."
The Patriots work on those specific types of plays going all the way back to the spring, according to players. And in training camp, during practice sessions that are open to the public, some of the most engaging periods involve watching Patriots receivers catch touchdowns along the back end line from Brady.
"These are situations that we practice," said receiver and special teams ace Matthew Slater. "Red-area scramble. Red-area situations. Back of the end zone, ball high. Front of the end zone, ball low. We work this. We practice this. To be able to come out and execute it at the most critical times of the season, it started in OTAs and now presents itself when we need it the most. I think preparation and execution really came together at the right time for us today."
Amendola had just three touches -- including a three-yard run -- in the first half. Jacksonville's defense was swarming, and the shallow middle portion of the field seemed to be a no-go for the Patriots offense. His first touch of the second half was a throw that he completed to Dion Lewis on a double-pass. Then, when he caught the third-and-18 sinking fastball from Brady, the seal was broken. Amendola was targeted six more times the rest of the way and caught four.
One was a wild throw from Brady, high and a touch wide, to Amendola to pick up 14 yards and a first down. It was one of multiple athletic grabs from the 32-year-old in the game.
"“The guy’s got maybe the best hand-eye coordination of any player I’ve ever played with," Slater said. "And I played with Randy Moss. His hand-eye coordination is elite. How do you measure that? You can't. It's just an in-game thing. I don't know. He's just so reliable, so consistent. And I think it just says so much about his character."
Bill Belichick raved about Amendola's game, which he did just over a week ago after Amendola had 11 catches for 112 yards against the Titans in the Divisional Round. Not only did Amendola catch it well, Belichick explained, but he had a key punt return as well.
With 4:58 remaining in the game and the Patriots down 20-17, Amendola brought a punt back 20 yards to put the Patriots in field goal range. Three plays later, Amendola was in the end zone and they didn't need a kick.
"Danny's a tremendous competitor, made some big plays for us," Belichick said. "I thought, as usual, he handled the punts great, and he had the last punt return that really set us up for the final touchdown.
"Danny's such a good football player. When you look up ‘good football player’ in the dictionary his picture is right there beside it. It doesn’t matter what it is. Fielding punts, third down, big play, red area, onside kick recovery -- whatever we need him to do. He’s just a tremendous player, very instinctive, tough, great concentration. He had some big plays for us today."
He seems to have a knack for that this time of year.