Patriots

Amendola more than reliable, 'incredible' in win over Titans

Amendola more than reliable, 'incredible' in win over Titans

FOXBORO -- Patriots players came out of the woodwork with nicknames for Danny Amendola Saturday night.

"We don't call him 'Steady Eddie' for no reason," Matthew Slater said. "He's always doing what he needs to do to get open, catch the ball, move the chains. I call him All-Weather 'Dola because it doesn't matter whether it's cold, hot, snow. He's going to be out there, he's going to get open, and he's going to make plays."

PATRIOTS 35. TITANS 14


"He's just Danny 'Playoff' Amendola," Rob Gronkowski said. "For real. Every time the playoffs come, big games, he's always there. He's always stepping up his game."

Amendola made good on those monikers in his team's 35-14 Divisional Round win over the Titans, catching 11 passes in the bone-chilling cold for a postseason career-high 112 yards. Five of those catches were third-down conversions, including a 12-yard gain on a third-and-two that kept a second-quarter touchdown drive alive, and a seven-yard grab on a third-and-three in the third quarter that helped lead to another score.

"I thought he played incredible," Tom Brady said.

At one point, Brady and Amendola connected on some kind of telepathic level. Just over a minute into the fourth quarter, facing a third-and-10 play, Brady scrambled to his right and looked like he might try to run for a first down. But Brady saw Amendola working on Logan Ryan across the field, and he launched a fall-away throw that hung in the air for an eternity before falling into Amendola's hands for a first down. 

“We locked eyes early, and I could tell he was thinking about it," Amendola said. "I kept running and I knew I had a couple yards, and he looked back again and let it go, and it ended up working out."

Amendola factored into the Patriots game plan in a big way as they did their best to stretch the Titans defense horizontally. Because Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau didn't have many quick linebackers at his disposal, and because the Titans aren't considered strong tackling team, it made sense that the Patriots opted for plays that put Tennessee defenders in space. That suited Amendola's game. The first play of the night, for instance, put Amendola in motion and saw him turn a short catch in the flat into a six-yard gain. 

"You get in these tough situations, [your] season's on the line every week in the postseason," Slater said. "You want to go out there going to your most dependable players. Can you think of a guy who's been more dependable since he got here?"

Amendola has been the picture of reliability in the playoffs since joining the Patriots. In 10 games, he's reeled in 42 catches for 473 yards and four scores, and he is personally responsible for some of the most memorable moments in recent Patriots playoff history. 

There was last year's Super Bowl, in which he caught eight passes, a touchdown and a two-point conversion. There was Super Bowl XLIX, when he caught another score and helped his team come back against the Seahawks. Two games prior to that one, he caught two touchdowns -- including one from his good friend Julian Edelman -- to beat the Ravens in the Divisional Round. 

Amendola didn't put up gaudy statistics in the regular season in 2017. He tallied 100 yards once, in a Week 1 loss to the Chiefs, and he finished the year with 61 catches for 659 yards and two touchdowns. But he's healthy, just as he was at the end of last season, just as he was at the end of 2014. And now after a few quiet weeks -- the last time he broke 50 yards receiving was when he caught six passes for 76 yards in a Week 12 loss to the Dolphins -- he's on track to have another extremely productive January. 

When asked about Amendola's contributions to Saturday's win, Bill Belichick referenced a long list of characteristics, the same list of characteristics that have earned Amendola an array of nicknames -- some creative, some not so much -- from his teammates. 

Belichick's voice dripped with reverence, and maybe a touch of awe, as he went trait-by-trait on the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder who has consistently been one of his team's best players in January and February the last few years. 

"Danny has great concentration, tough, really a smart football player," Belichick said. "Makes good decisions, good judgment. Knows how to get open, makes some big catches in tough situations. So, he’s kind of guy you take for granted, but he delivered a lot tonight, as he always does."

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Patriots-Jaguars inactives: Patriots without Waddle, rolling with Fleming

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Patriots-Jaguars inactives: Patriots without Waddle, rolling with Fleming

FOXBORO -- This is why you hold onto as many backup tackles as possible. 

The Patriots are down to their No. 3 right tackle, Cam Fleming, in the AFC title game. Yet Fleming's importance to the Patriots plan has barely come up this week. Why? Because he ain't bad. 

Fleming, who will get the starting nod at right tackle with LaAdrian Waddle out due to a knee injury, has started five of New England's last six games and has allowed jut two sacks in that span. Fleming played 35 snaps in the Divisional Round after Waddle was injured, and he did not allow a single quarterback pressure. 

There aren't many teams who could be down to their third right tackle and still have a chance, but the Patriots -- who went out of their way to build up their tackle depth by keeping both Waddle and Fleming for the 53-man roster out of training camp -- might be one. 

The Patriots announced that along with Waddle, Jacob Hoillister, Mike Gillislee, Bernard Reedy, Kenny Britt, David Harris and Alan Branch are all inactive for the AFC title game.

Hollister, a healthy scratch, is an interesting choice in that the Patriots could rely heavily on two-tight end sets against the Jaguars. If they do, they'll have to lean on Dwayne Allen and Rob Gronkowski. 

Alan Branch has said for two weeks that he's healthy enough to play. But the Patriots have opted to suit up Ricky Jean Francois instead of Branch, their biggest defensive tackle. The defensive front will have a lot of responsibility on its hands against the Jaguars, who rely heavily on their running game with big back Leonard Fournette. 

A pair of Patriots who were inactive last week will be in uniform Sunday afternoon: running back Rex Burkhead and corner Johnson Bademosi. With Jonathan Jones out for the season, Bademosi will likely take on the bulk of Jones' special-teams responsibilities. 

Patriots-Jaguars pregame notes

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Patriots-Jaguars pregame notes

The Patriots host the Jaguars today at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Championship Game. The game begins at 3:05 p.m.

  • Watch Patriots Pregame Live from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with Michael Felger, Charlie Weis, Bert Breer, Troy Brown and DJ Bean in Burlington, and Tom E. Curran, Phil Perry and Mike Giardi at Gillette.
  • When the game ends, watch Patriots Postgame Live.

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch, or click here for the livestream of the shows (and all NBC Sports Boston programming).

Here's what you need to know about the game . . .

FACTS AND FIGURES

GAME TIME: 3:05 p.m. 

SITE: Gillette Stadium

TEAM RECORDS: Patriots 14-3, Jaguars 12-6

ON TV: CBS

TV ANNOUNCERS: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson and Jay Feely

ON LOCAL RADIO: 98.5 The Sports Hub Patriots Radio Network

LOCAL RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Bob Socci and Scott Zolak

NATIONAL RADIO: Westwood One

NATIONAL RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Kevin Kugler, Dan Fouts and Ed Werder

ALL-TIME SERIES BETWEEN THE TEAMS: Patriots lead, 10-1

LAST MEETING: Patriots 51, Jaguars 17 on Sept. 27, 2015 at Gillette Stadium

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

-- Tom Brady completed 35 of 53 passes (66 percent) for 337 yards and three touchdowns for a 102.5 passer rating in the Patriots’ 35-14 win against Tennessee in the Divisional Playoffs. He can become the first quarterback in postseason history to record four consecutive games with at least 300 yards and multiple touchdown passes.

-- James White scored two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) in the Patriots’ win against Tennessee. He also scored three touchdowns in Super Bowl LI, and needs two touchdowns today to tie Emmitt Smith and Larry Fitzgerald for the most combined rushing and receiving touchdowns over a three-game span in postseason history.

-- Rob Gronkowski caught a touchdown pass last week and now has 10 career postseason TD receptions, trailing only Jerry Rice (22) and John Stallworth (12). He can tie Stallworth with two today.

-- The Jaguars, who went 3-13 last season, are attempting to become the first team since the 2009 Saints to go from 'worst to first' in their division and qualify for the Super Bowl. (In the NFC title game, the Eagles can accomplish the same feat.) Prior to the Saints, the last team to do so was the 2003 Panthers, whom the Patriots beat in Super Bwl XXXVIII.

-- The Jaguars, who beat the second-seeded Steelers in last week's divisional round, are also attempting to become the 11th team to defeat the top two seeds in their conference en route to the Super Bowl. 

-- Jacksonville running back Leonard Fournette rushed for 109 yards in three touchdowns in the Jaguars' 45-42 win in Pittsburgh last week. With one rushing touchdown today, he can tie Jamal Lewis (2000 Ravens), William Floyd (1994 49ers), Tony Dorsett (1977 Cowboys) and Norm Standlee (1941 Bears) for the postseason record for most rushing TDs by a rookie in a single postseason. He can break the record with two.

PATRIOTS VS. JAGUARS

-- The Patriots and Jaguars are meeting in the postseason for the fifth time. New England has won three of the previous four, including the 1996 AFC Championship Game at old Foxboro Stadium, which the Patriots won 20-6 in Bill Parcells' final home game as Patriots coach.

-- In the teams' last postseason meeting, New England improved its season's record to 15-0 by knocking off Jacksonville, 31-20, in the 2007 AFC Divisional Playoffs on Jan. 12, 2008 at Gillette Stadium.

MORE ON THE PATRIOTS

-- New England is the first team since the 1970 merger to play in seven consecutive conference championship games.

-- The Patriots have won nine conference championships, the most in NFL history. New England is 6-1 all-time in AFC Championship Games played at home.

-- Bill Belichick has advanced to 12 conference championship games, the most by a head coach since the 1970 merger.

-- Brady has 26 career playoff wins, the most by any starting quarterback in NFL history. Brady is also the NFL postseason leader in career completions (866), attempts (1,378), passing yards (9,431) and touchdown passes (66).

-- Brady has 13 playoff games with at least 300 passing yards, the most in NFL history. Brady recorded his 10th career postseason game with at least three touchdown passes last week and surpassed Joe Montana for the most all-time.

-- New England won its ninth consecutive division title, the longest streak in NFL history. The Patriots are the only team to win 14 division titles in a 15-year span.

MORE ON THE JAGUARS

-- Jacksonville is the second team since the 1970 merger to advance to the conference championship game after winning three or fewer games in the previous season. The other was the 2006 Saints.

-- The Jaguars led the NFL with seven defensive touchdowns during the regular season and scored on a 50-yard fumble-return touchdown by linebacker Telvin Smith in the divisional round against Pittsburgh.

-- Smith leads the NFL with three defensive touchdowns this season (including the playoffs).

-- Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles has won his first two career playoff starts. In both games, he threw a touchdown pass with no interceptions.

CAN JAGS TURN UP THE HEAT?

-- Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell had a franchise-record 14.5 sacks in the regular season and teammate Yannick Ngakoue added 12 sacks. Against Pittsburgh, Ngakoue had a sack and forced fumble, which led to Smith’s 50-yard fumble-return touchdown.

LOOKING FOR MORE?

-- Click here for additional information about the game.