Great Patriots Debates: Deion Branch vs. Danny Amendola

Great Patriots Debates: Deion Branch vs. Danny Amendola

As we've blasted through Great Patriots Debate after Great Patriots Debate these last few weeks, the "RECENCY BIAS!" outcry has flowed steadily (and sometimes in all caps) on social media. 

It was warranted when we batted around the idea of the best first-round pick in franchise history and John Hannah trailed Ty Law for about 23 hours during our 24-hour poll. Hannah, maybe the greatest guard in NFL history, surpassed Law by a percentage point just before voting closed. 

What people have seen most recently has to have a real impact on these kinds of discussions. No doubt. But nostalgia can be just as potent. The Kevin Faulk vs. James White debate pitted against one another these two phenomena. So will today's. 

It's a straightforward ask: Deion Branch or Danny Amendola? 

How you interpret that question is up to you. Would you rather Branch's career or Amendola's? If the Patriots could have had only one, which receiver would you choose? If you had a game to win and you could only pick one at the height of his powers, who would you run out there? 

Different approaches to these questions are what make your responses interesting. Variety is the spice of life and all that. But before you decide, consider the following. 

Branch is one of Tom Brady's all-time favorite receivers. Bill Belichick once had to ban Brady from throwing to Branch during training camp because the defense couldn't stop them and Brady wouldn't stop looking his buddy's way. In his first run with the Patriots (2002-2005), the second-round pick out of Louisville was dynamite — particularly in the postseason. 

Branch had 43 receptions as a rookie in what was a disappointing 2002 season for the team, but he then followed that up with 57 grabs for 803 yards en route to a Super Bowl in 2003. In that game against the Panthers, he caught 10 passes on 13 targets for 143 yards and a touchdown. He also had the catch that set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winner that night, yet it was Brady who came away with the game's MVP award. 

The next year saw Branch limited to nine regular-season games because of injury, but again he was a force come playoff time. He reeled in four passes for 116 yards and a score (to go along with 37 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown) in New England's AFC title game victory in Pittsburgh. Two weeks later he lit up the Eagles for 133 yards on 11 catches and was named MVP.

Coming off a second consecutive Super Bowl, Branch went into 2005 and only built on his reputation as Brady's go-to option with 78 catches on 125 targets for 998 yards and five touchdowns — all career-highs to that point. The Patriots didn't get through the Divisional Round of the playoffs that year, but it wasn't because they were waiting on contributions from their top receiver. Branch had eight catches for 153 yards at Mile High in a 27-13 defeat.

Branch held out the next season and was eventually dealt to the Seahawks for a first-round pick, a transaction that came with it a tampering charge against the Jets. The Patriots flamed out in the AFC title game that year with a receiving corps that was in desperate need of some measure of dependability, and Branch caught 53 passes in the first of his four-plus year stay in Seattle. 

He was reunited with the Patriots in 2010 — less than a week after the team jettisoned an unhappy Randy Moss — and immediately became a factor, catching nine passes for 98 yards in his first game back with Brady. Branch caught five touchdowns for the Patriots that season and caught five more in 2011, helping the Patriots back to the Super Bowl as a complementary piece to the tight end tandem that rolled through the NFL that year.

Branch's exceptional quickness — he ran a 3.76-second short-shuttle at the combine in 2002, one of the best ever recorded in Indy -— and football IQ helped make him an impossible cover, especially in his first go-round with the Patriots. Belichick was asked to compare Malcolm Mitchell to Branch, both of whom experienced success as rookie wideouts in New England, a few years ago.

“It’s hard to really compare anybody to Branch,” Belichick said at the time. “Branch had a rare quickness. I mean, what’d he run, like a 3.7 short-shuttle? You just don’t see that. Deion was very, very quick and very smart. I’m not saying there aren’t other smart receivers, but Deion was really a smart receiver and very, very quick. We’ve had quick guys like Troy [Brown], and Julian [Edelman], and Wes [Welker], guys like that. But it wasn’t Deion, they didn’t have Deion’s kind of quickness.

“They may have more size than Deion, they were probably a little better after the catch in terms of bulk, and strength, and breaking tackles and all that, but Deion’s short space quickness was pretty good. I don’t think we’ve had a guy with his kind of quickness. I don’t know that too many other teams have. They might have been quick but not with all of the other things, but when you put Deion together with his hands, his instincts — which were very good — his overall intelligence and his short space quickness. He was not the biggest guy, not the strongest guy but he was hard to cover. His quickness was tough to cover. It’d be hard to compare anybody to him because he was pretty unique with the level of quickness that he had.”

Amendola might not have had Branch's level of quickness, but he was certainly quick enough to be considered one of the most indispensable playoff performers in Patriots history. 

Signed in 2013 when there was some uncertainty as to whether or not the Patriots would be able to retain Welker, Amendola — who came to New England with durability concerns — was hurt almost immediately. He played through injuries for the duration of that season to catch 54 passes for 633 yards and two scores. He played in every regular-season game in 2014 but was heavily managed, catching just 27 passes for 200 yards that year. He was healthy enough come playoff time to submit some of the biggest moments during that team's run, though. Amendola was on the receiving end of Edelman's double-pass touchdown in the Divisional Round against the Ravens, and he caught a fourth-quarter score against the Seahawks to help Brady complete that comeback for Lombardi No. 4.

In 2016, Amendola's numbers were down again in the regular season due in part to injury; he racked up 23 catches and 243 yards in 12 games. But he was good to go in the Super Bowl. He caught only two passes in his team's first two playoff games, but against the Falcons he was one of the lInchpins to the 28-3 comeback effort, snagging eight passes for 78 yards, a touchdown and a critical two-point conversion. 

When Edelman went down with a torn ACL in the 2017 preseason, the team leaned on Amendola (just as they did when Edelman dealt with injuries in 2015). Amendola caught 61 passes for 659 yards in the regular season and was a monster in the playoffs, going for 112 yards against Tennessee, 84 yards and two scores against Jacksonville, and compiling 152 yards on eight catches in the Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia. 

"Danny's a tremendous competitor, made some big plays for us," Belichick said following the conference championship that year. "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."

Amendola finished with 230 catches, 2,383 yards and 12 touchdowns in 69 career regular-season games with the Patriots. That doesn't stack up with the numbers Branch produced in his regular-season career in New England: 328 catches, 4,297 yards and 24 touchdowns in 89 career regular-season games with the team. 

But Amendola's postseason production — 57 catches for 709 yards, six touchdowns and a two-point conversion in 13 games — matches up pretty tightly with what Branch did in January and February numbers-wise. Branch had 56 catches for 852 yards and five total touchdowns in 14 playoff games with the Patriots.

Given the injuries he played through, his special-teams contributions, and what he got out of his 190-pound frame, Amendola has an argument as one of the franchise's toughest wideouts in recent memory as well as one of its most clutch. But for every big postseason game Amendola had, Branch has an answer. And there's that Super Bowl MVP trophy that'll help Branch's cause in any "Who ya got?" conversation. Both have a pair of rings that might not exist were it not for them. Both have more than their share of memorable playoff moments. 

The numbers are the numbers, but how you remember those moments will more than likely inspire your choice in this debate. That seems to be how these things have gone over the last few weeks, which is exactly what has made them such entertaining pre-camp filler.

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Let the Terrell Suggs speculation begin: Ravens reunion? Patriots pickup?

Let the Terrell Suggs speculation begin: Ravens reunion? Patriots pickup?

Could the Patriots be seeing a familiar, old rival in the playoffs? Or could they be seeing him on their own defense for their playoff run?

The Arizona Cardinals released longtime Pats nemesis Terrell Suggs, 37, on Friday and he'll be on waivers until Monday. While the Patriots, at 10-3, are far down on the waiver list to claim him, the former Pro Bowl linebacker's old team, the Baltimore Ravens, with the NFL's best record at 12-2, are last in line, so a potential reunion appears to be a long shot.

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If he goes unclaimed, he'll be a free agent, calling to mind two years ago when the Pats snapped up pass rusher James Harrison, then 39, after Harrison passed through waivers following his release from the Steelers. 

While it's not the Patriots defense, but an offense that hasn't scored more than 20 points in a game since Halloween, that could use a boost this season, the idea of the guy who once refused to say Tom Brady's name (he'd call him "the pretty boy up north") surfacing in New England was too good to resist for a couple of ex-players:

'What it's all about': McCourty twins donate to local Pop Warner team in need ahead of national championship

'What it's all about': McCourty twins donate to local Pop Warner team in need ahead of national championship

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty and Jason McCourty get a number of requests throughout the course of a given year. They can't act on all of them, but one popped up on their shared Twitter account recently that caught their attention.

The Lawrence 10U Pop Warner team was on the verge of something special, but they needed a hand. They were one game away from having a chance to go to Orlando to compete for the Pop Warner national championship, but they were looking for help with funding.

"I looked into it and saw before the season they almost lost the team, I guess," Devin said. "They didn't have enough money. So they raised money for the team. If they lost [before going to Orlando], they were just going to put the money back into the organization. So we both sent checks to them figuring if they win, they go. If not, it'll help them going into next year. They won."

According to Bill Burt of The Eagle-Tribune, the McCourty's sent $5,000 apiece that would help the team cover expenses to go to Orlando.

"I was going back and forth with them on Twitter, and they offered to help," coach Ryan Mustapha told the Eagle-Tribune. "I was in shock . . . They loved our story, that we're a [urban] team in a struggling city. This really, really helps us going forward."

Devin McCourty, now in his 10th NFL season, has made a point to be involved in the community in a number of ways since his rookie season. Since Jason arrived to the team in the spring of 2018, he's been all-in on a number of local causes alongside his twin.

Their Tackle Sickle Cell campaign works to raise money, awareness and increase blood donations to fight against sickle cell disease. They helped head up the Social Justice Fund, established by Patriots players, which helped raise $450,000 in grants that went to five different organizations doing work in the areas of social justice and equality. The McCourtys were also very vocal in their support for the Student Opportunity Act, an overhaul of the state's funding formula for public education that was approved last month and promises to infuse $1.5 billion into school districts over the next seven years. 

For the McCourtys, their work away from the field has allowed them to become more familiar with a place like Lawrence.

"I thought it was cool. Just from all the stuff we've been doing, hearing about different areas of Massachusetts -- I've been here 10 years but I'm not from Massachusetts," Devin said. "Just hearing of different areas and knowing some of the struggles, the city of Lawrence. For some of these kids, this may be one of the best experiences of their childhood, to be able to go to Disney and compete for a national championship. And it's fitting because it's in Title Town . . .

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"To me, sometimes you hear things, and it just aligns with everything. I remember growing up and wanting to go to Disney and seeing that on TV. Soon as we saw it, we both screen-shotted it because that makes sense to us. I think that's what I've learned since I've been in the league. You gotta just do things that you're passionate about. A lot of requests that people give us are good things, but not everything is something you'd be passionate about."

Finding those passions and diving in head-first, Devin said, is "what it's all about."

"I think it's pretty sad if football only meant the games you played, the recognition you get from playing a sport," he said. "I think especially when you think about it growing up, I wasn't the best player growing up. I only had one offer coming out of high school. There were other guys in my area that were better and then obviously as you go, as you reach further out, kids get better. I think when you get blessed with an opportunity, it's for a reason. I think the reason is to make a difference off the field. 

"As professional athletes, it's sad, but we could say the same things that teachers, parents say to kids and they'll listen more because they'll think what we're saying means more. I think that's a responsibility that's very important. It's something you gotta take seriously. But I think it's also something you have to be proud of to have that opportunity to be a role model to kids who might have a similar background to you. Sometimes worse. You can be an inspiration, give them hope. 

"In a situation like this, you can bless them with funds. They don't care about the money, but they'll remember the memories and the fact that a professional football player took the time to invest in them. I hope means more to them as they get older and realize, 'I am important, I can accomplish things that I might not see people doing right outside my window, but I can accomplish things because there are people out there that care and want to invest in me and see me do good things.' "

The McCourtys played Pop Warner for the Valley Cottage Indians in Nyack, New York. They lost in the state championship as 12-year-olds, Devin told reporters earlier this season. "You don’t forget," he said at the time, "any time you play for a championship and you don’t win it." But the memory of playing on that team -- and competing against fellow future NFL players Ray Rice and Tyvon Branch -- remains a strong one. 

That's part of the reason why the McCourtys wanted to help the Lawrence 10U team. Devin, who tries to inspire Patriots defensive backs immediately before every game with a few words, even recorded a video to be played for the Lawrence players before their first game in Florida. 

"I basically told them to go have fun," he said. "That's what it's about. To have the opportunity to go out there and compete for a championship, but compete for a championship with guys that are your friends, guys you enjoy playing with. 

"So somewhat [like a Patriots pregame speech]. Just not yelling and screaming."

After beating Northbridge, New Jersey, and Proviso Township, Illinois, in the semifinal earlier this week, the Lawrence 10U team will compete for the national title against Palmetto, Florida, on Saturday at 9:30 a.m.