Patriots

It's been a challenging climb to the top for Danny Amendola

It's been a challenging climb to the top for Danny Amendola

MINNEAPOLIS -- Tell me what player on the Patriots these quotes are about. 

“He’s relentless,” said Brandin Cooks. 

“He’s just constantly getting after it,” Rob Gronkowski said. “Nobody works harder.”

“As tough as they come. A football player in every sense of the word. And his work ethic is as good as I’ve ever been around,” added Chris Hogan.

Even those who have been studying this player in preparation for Super Bowl 52 can see that work ethic shine on tape.

“Dude just knows how to play football,” said Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills. “He keeps coming. He’s relentless.”

Hmmm. Relentless. Isn’t that the title of Julian Edelman’s autobiography (which just so happens to be written by our own Tom Curran)? Why yes, yes it is. But that’s not who the Patriots and Eagles are talking about. No, it’s that “other” pint-sized slot machine, Danny Amendola. And for good reason. At the age of 32, Amendola may be better than ever, which when you consider where he came from, makes his story so compelling.

As you know by now, Amendola went undrafted coming out of Texas Tech. Meanwhile, Edelman actually heard his name called a year later, in the 2009 draft as a 7th rounder. Bill Belichick called him direct, telling Edelman ‘we don’t know what we’ll do with you but we’ll figure it out.’ Eventually, the Patriots did, but only after Amendola - by then on his fourth team - had his body give out just as he was ready to pile up 100 catch seasons as his predecessor and, in many way football idol, Wes Welker, had done.

“That was really frustrating,” said Amendola. “But that wasn’t an end by any means.”

When given his chance to slide into Welker’s role, Edelman grabbed hold of the job and never let go. Meanwhile Amendola had to scratch and claw to carve out a role - any role - on the team that had given him a hefty sum to leave St. Louis. He’s taken pay cut after pay cut, but has proven his value to the franchise over and over again, making some of the biggest plays in team history. But getting to this point - to becoming Danny “Playoff” Amendola was anything but easy. Then again, maybe this was the way it was destined to go all along. After all, few are more prepared for the daily grind.

“A lot of mental toughness goes into playing in this league,’ said Amendola. “There’s a lot of doubters. There’s a lot of haters. There’s a lot of great opponents you have to go against. It makes it tough.”

Though the Texas Tech grad didn’t hear his name called on that NFL Draft weekend in 2008, he wasn’t short on offers. But to him, there was only one team he wanted to earn his stripes with: the Dallas Cowboys.

“I came out of college, moved in with my brother in Dallas,” he recalled. “All my friends were in Dallas. it was the only thing I knew at the time and looking back at it now, I learned a lot.”

What he learned was that he was good enough to open some eyes but eventually not good to make the Cowboy roster as a rookie. After being without a team for 5 months - essentially an eternity for an undrafted guy - the Eagles felt compelled to take a shot, squirreling away Amendola on their practice squad for 9 months. While happy with the opportunity, there were some dark days filled with doubt. What if it never happens? 

“Not playing in the games on Sundays after putting the work in during the week and not feeling like you’re getting anything out of it,” he said of those days on the practice squad. “Then there’s the uncertainties of your future really. You don’t really know, not when you’re the last man on the depth chart and a rookie in the league.”

Amendola’s work ethic, incredible short area quickness, and soft hands got the Rams to sign him off the Eagles practice squad. Finally Amendola would get his shot. He was so impressive that then St Louis teammate Chris Long dubbed him “White Lightning. There was an 85-catch season in 2010 before a torn tricep cost Amendola all but one game of the 2011 season. He rebounded the following year, reeling in 63 passes over 11 games before the injury bug bit again. Despite the rehabs and individual disappointment, Amendola remembers that time fondly. 

“I’ve always been very grateful to wear cleats to work, wear a helmet, run around and play ball. The fact that they were paying me to do that was a bonus.”

Fast forward to Tuesday, January 30th, 2018. Amendola sits at a podium, just a handful of days from his third Super Bowl trip in four seasons with the Pats. The room is crowded but aside from Tom Brady - THE Tom Brady - no one has more cameras on him than that undrafted kid from Texas Tech, that player that just wasn’t good enough to make the Cowboys or Eagles, the high-energy pinball that the Rams decided they just didn’t want to pay. Amendola has earned this moment, and all the other successes that are on his resume and what he believes are the many more to come.

“I put a lot of hard work into this craft, into playing ball. It feels good.” 

He smiled. He has every reason to.

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Curran: Are Patriots fans wishing away the final years of a kicking savant?

Curran: Are Patriots fans wishing away the final years of a kicking savant?

SUDBURY – It’s the last Saturday before training camp and on this blue sky/no cloud/light breeze afternoon, Stephen Gostkowski is working a stopwatch at a youth football camp at Lincoln-Sudbury High School.

Paid, not paid, I have no idea (probably paid, though). Still, the second-longest tenured Patriot is giving the organizers their money’s worth in terms of involvement and enthusiasm. I snap a shot of Gostowski timing a pack of tweens leaning for the tape in a 40-yard dash and tweet it out. 

A total of two replies come back. The second one asks, “When are they gonna cut his bum ass? Lost them the AFCCG in '15, almost lost them the SB in '16, missed a FG in SB 52.” 

It’s Twitter so the “ACKNOWLEDGE MY BLOODTHIRSTY CANDOR!!!” factor enters into our friend’s ruthless panning of the third most accurate kicker in NFL history 

But @DrJones37 isn’t on an island either.

Gostkowski is a two-time All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowler who’s made 340 of 388 field goals and 593 of 599 PATs in the 11 regular seasons since 2006. He’s missed just 10 of 140 postseason kicks (field goals and PATs) . And plenty of New Englanders sneer at the mention of his name and can’t wait to see his allegedly bum-ass shrinking over the horizon.

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Gostkowski’s perceived sin against Patriots football isn’t really the misses DrJones correctly catalogued. It’s the absence of season-saving or Super Bowl clinching kicks that his predecessor Adam Vinatieri made. Even now, a dozen years after he fled for more money and kinder kicking conditions with the Colts, Hall of Fame-bound Automatic Adam throws a shadow Gostkowski can’t escape.

And there’s no way to change that. Vinatieri made the most memorable field goal in NFL history in the Snow Bowl and validated that kick with the OT game-winner a half-hour later. Two weeks after that, he creased a 48-yarder in New Orleans to win Super Bowl 36. Two seasons later, he clinched Super Bowl 39 with another relative bomb against the Panthers.

It doesn’t matter that he was an 82 percent regular-season kicker with the Patriots or that he was 1 for 3 on field goals in SB39 and 26 of 37 overall in the playoffs while here. Vinatieri’s makes were so massive that misses were forgiven and forgotten. With the “money on the table,” as the late Gil Santos would say, you could start packing up your stuff when Vinatieri was kicking.

It’s not supposed to feel like that. But since it once did, clutch-kicking nirvana is seen as a standard. Gostkowski’s never measured up to it.

In contrast to Vinatieri, Gostkowski’s PAT miss at Denver in the 2015 AFC Championship is probably his most memorable kick https://www.nbcsports.com/boston/new-england-patriots/gostkowski-sick-about-missed-pat-was-key-loss . Even though he hadn’t missed one all season in spite of the NFL’s pushing the kick back 15 yards in 2015 (with the Patriots hearty support), even though he held the NFL record for consecutive PATs made, that miss cost the Patriots dearly against noodle-armed Peyton Manning and – in large part – kept the team from getting a shot at the very vulnerable Panthers in the Super Bowl.

That miss begot a 2016 slump that was capped by an “Oh, shit!” PAT miss in the Super Bowl that was immediately followed by a botched onsides kick.

Those are the “Yeah, but…” trump cards slammed down in front of anyone who wants to argue the merits of Gostkowski.

And with the 34-year-old entering the final year of his current contract, the chance looms that the Good Riddance Gostkowski crew may realize its wish.

And then realize what it really feels like when every kick is closer to a coin flip than a layup.

For the past three seasons, 17 teams made more than 85 percent of their regular-season field goals. My math tells me that those 15 teams – nearly half the league – live in Puckertown.

Nine teams were under 80 percent last year. There were eight in 2016 and just three in 2015. By contrast, Gostkowski’s been south of 90 percent once since 2013 (84.4 percent in 2016).

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Even if Gostkowski hasn’t been as steady as a metronome, he’s a damn sight better at kicking field goals and PATs than 90 percent of the league. Not to mention the fact he’s accustomed to the kickoff nuances the Patriots demand as they consistently try to win field position.

On Saturday, Gostkowski acknowledged the passage of time since he was a rookie in 2006.

“It’s a good and a bad thing,” he said. “I have some white hairs in my beard now. Getting a little thin up top. It’s a blessing to think that I would have played professional sports for over a decade and going into my 13th year. I’ve got nothing but gratitude and thankfulness.”

Asked by ESPN’s Mike Reiss if he’s in a year-to-year mode at this point, Gostkowski answered, “I really don’t think like that. You reassess things every year. It’s easy to say after a year, ‘I might do this or I might do that…’ but as long as I’m happy, healthy and good I’m gonna do it.”

The Patriots report on Wednesday and camp opens for real on Thursday. This is his 12th camp – two more than Vinatieri was here for.

“It’s like the first day of school. Even though we’ll see how I feel three weeks from now. But I really do look forward to it,” Gostkowski said. “Sometimes having a little too much free time can be dangerous. When you play football you’re used to someone telling you what to do and where to be and you kind of miss that.”

It takes some perspective to appreciate that you’ve got it good even when it’s not always perfect. 

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Patriots sign Sony Michel to rookie contract

Patriots sign Sony Michel to rookie contract

First round running back Sony Michel officially signed his rookie contract with the New England Patriots Sunday. 

The 31st overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft will receive the standard rookie deal for first round picks, which is four years with a team option for a fifth season. 

Michel will join James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee and newcomer Jeremy Hill in the New England backfield. 

The Patriots begin training camp on Thursday, July 26th, but rookies report today, so Michel signed his deal just in time to attend his first camp as an NFL running back. 

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