Danny Amendola

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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Chilly Brady can warm up to another playoff run

Chilly Brady can warm up to another playoff run

FOXBORO - If you were one of the hearty souls that braved single-digit temperatures and a wind chill that made it feel -50 (hey, I’m not a weatherman nor do I play one on TV), Tom Brady has a lot of love for you.

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“That was pretty hardcore today,” said the still-thawing out quarterback after the Patriots’ 26-6 win over the Jets. “To be out there and to brave that weather, sit in the stands, that was pretty sweet. It was a great way to end the year. We started 2-2 and 13-3 is pretty good and to get the No. 1 seed. So, our biggest games are ahead of us, and hopefully, the fans enjoy that and they come out ready to go whenever we play.”

That weather had an impact on Brady Sunday afternoon. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes - that almost never happens - going 18–of-37 for 190 yards. Brady wasn’t razor sharp but neither were his receivers. There were a handful of drops, including a well-thrown deep ball to Philip Dorsett, and several miscommunications with Brandin Cooks and even Danny Amendola that probably shouldn’t happen at this point in the season.

“It just makes everything harder,” said Brady. “I mean, it’s harder to throw, it’s harder to catch, it’s harder to tackle. I mean, it’s just, I think for you guys standing out there in 10 degrees, it’s pretty tough. So, it’s a very technical sport. And, really, you’re not really playing the weather. You’re playing the other team. So, whoever handles it the best wins, and today winning 26-6, I think we handled it pretty well.”

Brady wasn’t in the best of moods postgame. Maybe it was the cold. Maybe it was his performance or that of the offense in general. He was hurried on 11 of his 37 throws, though sacked just once. Brady also took a couple of hard shots, including one in which he landed on his right shoulder - the throwing shoulder - something he’s very conscious of avoiding. When asked about the group’s performance and where the unit was headed going into the playoffs, he kept it short.

“We’ll see,” he said. “I mean, it’s going to be a different defense, different plan and we’ve just got to get going and execute better, and I think we can do that.”

Past history would side with Brady. Heck, recent history - like early November - would also back that sentiment. On this day, the Pats clearly removed Rob Gronkowski from being a major piece of the game plan to more of a decoy, no doubt in effort to keep him healthy as the Pats head for the postseason. Gronk was not targeted once. In fact, watching from above, it looked like Brady never even looked in his direction. The Pats were also without Chris Hogan again this week, and Rex Burkhead and James White and Mike Gillislee and even Malcolm Mitchell, who returned to practice this week after re-injuring his knee back in August. Some - if not all of those players - are being counted on for a January return. 

“Yeah, it’s going to take – I mean, if those guys are able to get out there and play, I think anytime you get good players healthy, it helps a lot,” Brady said. “So, there’s a lot of guys, like Brandin Cooks, Danny [Amendola] – they played a lot of football this year and have been out there for a lot of snaps – Dion Lewis has. So, if guys can kind of take some snaps off, I think throughout the week of practice and the games, I think that really pays off. So, you’d like to be able to use everybody, and we have a good roster, especially on offense, and a lot of good skill players. I think it’s got to be more than just two or three guys doing it. If we can get five or six guys healthy and everyone plays a role, then that’s going to be great for the offense.”

There’s no denying that, nor the fact that Brady is at his best when he has a full arsenal of weapons at his disposal. But even without that, the Pats have put themselves in position to be in position for the next step, a home playoff game, then another and finally, they hope, a trip to Minnesota and another Super Bowl appearance.

“I mean, football’s a team sport. I mean, we’re 13-3. That’s the best in the AFC. That’s what we’re playing for, and that’s all that really matters.”

Indeed.
 

Patriots win the turnover battle on the coaching staff, too

Patriots win the turnover battle on the coaching staff, too

FOXBORO -  Josh McDaniels stood on the Patriots practice fields before the start of their first spring workout and spoke about starting from scratch. 

"Every year is a different team," he said. "This is a different team obviously than last year's. But this is 17 years for me, and never once have we had the same group come back and really be the same to start with the next year. We gotta work hard now, create a foundation, learn about these guys that we have that we don't really have a lot of experience with, and start to build that trust all over again."

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But as McDaniels embarked on that process, he had an advantage over most offensive coordinators around the league. It was the same advantage from which Matt Patricia benefited as he began working with the Patriots defense: continuity.

McDaniels and Patricia began the season as two of seven coordinators in the NFL who had held their positions since 2012. It's a jarring statistic when one considers that almost 90 percent (55 of 62, the Texans and 49ers don't have offensive coordinators on staff) of all coordinator jobs have turned over at least once in the past five years. 

The understanding that both Patricia and McDaniels have been around the Patriots much longer than five seasons -- that was when Patricia was officially given the coordinator's title, and it was when McDaniels returned for his second go-round at the job -- only bolsters the point that the continuity the Patriots boast at the top of their coaching tree is unmatched. 

Belichick, McDaniels and Patricia's run as a trio, though, could be wrapping up. Both McDaniels and Patricia are frequently mentioned as two of the top head-coaching candidates in football, and there could be about a dozen jobs open after the season.

If one or both decide to leave, they could be replaced by Belichick with in-house candidates to maintain a level of consistency. Receivers coach Chad O'Shea and linebackers coach Brian Flores have seen play-caller reps in the preseason and would be among the options. But if Patricia and McDaniels walked out the door, a measure of familiarity would leave with them.

"We have a lot of consistency on our entire staff," Belichick said back in July. "I thought that was very helpful this year in a relatively short offseason. Those guys were able to – when I say 'those guys,' the entire staff – were able to get into things pretty quickly. There wasn’t really a [period of] catching new staff members up or bringing them up to speed or going over things.

"Pretty much everybody’s been through everything that we’re doing, both in the offseason and the regular season, our game preparation and so forth. Not that we don’t have a lot of work to do. I’m not saying that. But at least we have a level of experience of all doing it together. So, yeah. It’s good."

That consistency on the staff helped the Patriots make one of their biggest acquisitions of the last few years when they coaxed Dante Scarnecchia out of retirement. If the coaches rooms had been lined with new faces in 2015, he might not have been so willing to return.  

"[We] know what to expect of one another," the 69-year-old offensive line coach said. "They know what to expect of us. I think all of that stuff makes it so much easier. I don't know if I would've ever come back if Josh wouldn't have been [here]. Because Josh was here, that was one of the huge reasons . . . And all the guys on defense. You know all those guys. It's really, it's a good bunch of guys to be around in every respect. You come into the office every day. Egos are checked at the door. Just seems like it's a healthy environment."

It's an unusually healthy one compared to the rest of the league, like an NFL medical marvel that science can't solve - around forever and still going strong. 

Walking through the bowels of Gillette Stadium over the summer, Patricia was asked how he could explain the rare longevity that he and McDaniels have enjoyed as coordinators. 

"What I will say is I do feel very blessed," Patricia said. "Especially working with Josh, Nick Caserio, and Bill, and really my staff, of having that continuity. I think we know we have something special with that and we enjoy it. 

"When you get in those situations, you tend to savor them, and you tend to really appreciate them. It's great. Josh and I have been together a long time, from being together on the same side of the ball to now being able to coordinate our sides. Having that relationship and that background, I mean, I'm very, very lucky."

For the players that McDaniels and Patricia coach, the feeling is mutual. Those who have played elsewhere before coming to the Patriots seem to be particularly thankful to land in a place where the path to success is clear and has been manicured by the same sets of hands for years. 

"'I've been in situations where we've had new OCs, new coaches come in, new quarterbacks, and it's not easy getting guys where they need to be," Danny Amendola said. "The biggest thing is having the ability to show film with consistency of the offensive coordinator from past years, and what he wants, and what needs to happen to be successful. That's just what Coach McDaniels offers for us. It's good because there's no gray area. It's pretty black and white: 'This is what you need to do to be successful.' He can put on tape of guys doing it successfully in previous years. The consistency is there, and I know Coach McDaniels loves to be here and everybody loves to play for him.

"I remember when I first met him, he came to St. Louis and we were coming off the lockout. We didn't have any time in OTAs together. We were literally thrown into camp, we had two weeks before our first preseason game, and it was tough. It was tough, man. He was showing us Patriots clips. He was showing Broncos. We didn't know where we stacked up in the room. There were a lot of different variables. 

"That consistency we have now is huge for our offense. Every coach, you can turn to. Chad's been here for about 10 years. [Running backs coach Ivan Fears] has been here for no telling how long...The consistency and the template to just playing good football is here. It might be a lot to grasp at first for a new guy. But once you kind of grasp it, it gets a lot easier. It's there for you."

Despite the Patriots running challenging systems both offensively and defensively, the acclimation process for new additions is made easier by the multiple layers of coaching that dots the locker room. With consistent teaching points from year to year, established players end up becoming valuable sounding boards for their newer teammates.

"When you have stability like that, it's huge because guys know what to expect," David Harris said. "They're familiar with the playbook. Being a new guy coming in, a lot of times I can just ask another player, 'How do I play this?' Or, 'What do I do?' instead of having one-on-one meetings with the position coach or the defensive coordinator. That's a huge benefit, the continuity of the coaches here. They've been successful a long time, and it's working."

Harris knows how the other half lives. In 10 years with the Jets, he played under three head coaches (Eric Mangini, Rex Ryan and Todd Bowles) and four defensive coordinators (Bob Sutton, Mike Pettine, Dennis Thurman and Kacy Rodgers). 

Chris Hogan saw even more regular turnover in his four years in Buffalo. First, he played under coach Chan Gailey and offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins. Then it was Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett. Then Rex Ryan took over and Greg Roman ran the offense. 

Dwayne Allen's run in Indianapolis was similarly turbulent. He played for only one head coach in his five years with the team, Chuck Pagano, but the offense changed hands three times. Bruce Arians, Pep Hamilton and Rob Chudzinski all had cracks at it.

For Allen, New England's single-minded approach offensively was refreshing to step into. When he had questions, there was Rob Gronkowski (seven years in the offense) and James Develin (five) to lean on in meetings. On the field, if Nate Solder (six years in the offense) or Marcus Cannon (six) sensed something was off, they could set Allen straight.

"No matter's who's around me," Allen said in camp, "with the ones and the twos, I'm able to turn to my left and my right and ask a question, and they're able to point me in the right direction."

Hogan remembered feeling the same way going into last season. If he wanted them, there were sources of on-the-field advice everywhere. It was a dynamic that couldn't exist if everyone was under a new boss for the third time in four seasons.

"There's guys that have been doing it," Hogan said in camp. "They got guys that can teach people the offense. It doesn't have to always be Josh. It can be Julian [Edelman], Tom [Brady], Danny, [Matthew] Slater, Gronk. They've got guys that have been in this offense for a while.

"You have to have veteran leadership. It doesn't have to always be Josh. I think that's why people can come in here and be successful, because there are so many guys that can teach the offense, coach it. There's not a lot of turnover here. Players, yeah. But the coaches have been here. They know what they're doing. They know what they want."

As long as Belichick remains the head coach and Brady remains the quarterback, the schematic changes will in all likelihood be minimal even if the coordinators move on. But if the voices change, and if the methods change, it would stand to reason that a degree of uncertainty would follow.

McDaniels is a close friend of Brady's, someone who can pull out a game plan from years ago for Brady to execute after a quick sideline powwow, someone Brady immediately acknowledged after throwing one of the most important touchdowns of his career. Patricia is a coach who has been able to connect with his players on multiple levels, tweaking them to give their best, hugging them when they need it, and all the while maintaining his reputation as the rocket scientist with the beautiful football mind.

Those qualities aren't easily replaced, and if the Patriots are forced to change coordinators this offseason it could take some time to reboot. Change can be hard. And change at the top is something the Patriots have managed to avoid during the latest iteration of their dynasty.

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