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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Keionta Davis proving to be an intriguing pass-rush option for the Patriots

Keionta Davis proving to be an intriguing pass-rush option for the Patriots

FOXBORO -- After Keionta Davis folded up Eagles quarterback Joe Callahan for a sack in the waning seconds of Thursday's preseason game, he took a brief moment to himself. Rolling off of Callahan, Davis paused ever so quickly with his shoulders pinned on the turf before getting helped up. 

Davis couldn't be blamed for taking a short breather for himself, if that's what it was. He played more snaps than any other Patriots defender (54) -- a rare honor for a 6-foot-3, 280-pounder -- and it wasn't all in mop-up duty. 

The second-year defensive lineman started the game for the Patriots and ended it with a sack. He had 1.5 sacks on the night to go along with three more pressures and two stops in the running game. 

"Coaches just wanted me to get some reps," Davis said. "I gotta play. It's that simple."

The reason Davis has to play is that he hasn't played for quite some time. For ever player who may need a workload reduction this summer after having played a lot of football in 2017, there's a player like Davis who could use the extra work to knock off the layers of rust that have accumulated. 

Davis was signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga last summer. He was a two-time All-American as a menace off the edge, and his talent was enough to reportedly coax Bill Belichick to Chattanooga to put Davis through a private workout. He had 31 sacks in college and was projected to be a mid-to-late round pick last spring, but he went unclaimed due to a bulging disc in his neck that was found in a physical at the NFL Scouting Combine. 

According to a story last May in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Davis had no idea anything was wrong. He finished the 2016 season as the Southern Conference defensive player of the year, and he participated in the Senior Bowl before getting the news.

The Patriots signed Davis last summer, but by the time the NFL's regular season rolled around, Davis was placed on the non-football injury/reserve list, ending his year before it began. 

That's what made Thursday night all the more special for the 24-year-old. His first sack in the fourth quarter was his first since last year's Senior Bowl. In the aftermath, he clapped his hands and looked up to the sky.

"It was relief," he said. "I didn't want to celebrate. I still got work to do, man. I'm not really trying to celebrate right now . . . Let me get through the rest of camp. More work to be done."

Davis' second sack (he was only credited with half sack on the play) came after powering back guard Darrell Green en route to his target. 

On both plays, it appeared that Davis was working as a three-technique -- off the outside shoulder of the offensive guard in front of him. Though he arrived to the Patriots as a true edge defender, listed at 260 pounds at the time, Davis has bulked up and spent plenty of time working from the interior this summer. 

"There's been a learning curve," he said. "I did put on some weight, up to 280 now, but my body feels great. I don't feel a difference. Moving inside everything moves a little bit quicker. It's something I haven't done before, but I'm asked to do it so I try to go in there and master it the best I can."

With good quickness and long arms, Davis is a natural fit to work against stubbier guards and centers. Especially in New England, where Trey Flowers -- another long-armed end -- has had great success as a disruptor from the inside. 

"I'm quicker than most guys on the inside" Davis said. "Got good length, I feel like. I think it uses my strengths to the best of my ability. And then I'm just learning from the guys who play inside. Malcolm Brown. Lawrence Guy's really helped whenever I'm inside. They give me the best tips they can."

For all the learning he did during his season off, for all the tutoring he's received from the veterans around him, playing time will continue to be critical.

Belichick indicated on Friday that while he's impressed by what Davis has done to this point, his young pass-rusher needs to log more minutes of game action. 

"He still has a long way to go," Belichick said. "He still has a lot of things he needs to improve on and refine and react quicker to and so forth, but that comes from not having actively played football for a year, or a little more than a year . . . 

"Hopefully those things will come back to him and his reactions and all will continue to improve. He's done a good job. He's in good condition. He's worked hard. I like what he's been doing."

Late on Thursday night inside the Patriots locker room, Davis entertained questions from multiple reporters, smiling often as he took his time with each. Even though he knew the game's score meant nothing, even though he said he knew he had plenty of work to do to earn a roster spot, he appeared to be enjoying the moment.

He was a long way from last year. 

"It definitely wasn't promised, and they definitely took a chance on me," Davis said. "Everything just worked out. I just want to show my gratitude by going out there and playing hard, competing. Whatever role they put me in, I'll try to do my best."

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