FOXBOROUGH — A semicircle of reporters eight deep surrounded Danny Amendola as the receiver dressed and gathered his things at his locker following Saturday’s 35-31 win over the Ravens at Gillette Stadium.
It’s the first time that’s happened since Amendola signed with the Patriots prior to the 2013 season. Some wondered, based on his statistics, if it would ever happen.
Yet Amendola was responsible for three of the biggest plays the Patriots made in an instant classic that featured momentum swings, comebacks, trick plays, and turnovers. It’s hard to imagine Amendola having a bigger game in the 31 (playoffs included) he’s now played with the Patriots.
“I love playing for this team,” Amendola said. “We’ve got a great bunch of guys here. We’re a very tight-knit group here in the locker room, and we’ve got a great coaching staff, we play hard for them.”
Amendola finished with five catches for 81 yards, and averaged 25 yards on five kickoff returns. On the whole, those numbers won’t be remembered. What will be remembered were the three clutch catches by Amendola that helped the Patriots advance to the AFC Championship game for the fourth consecutive season.
Two of the three catches were the same play called in the huddle.
The first time put the Patriots into the end zone, and tied the game at 14. Amendola caught a short pass from Tom Brady near the left sideline, broke an attempt by safety Matt Elam to tackle him, tiptoed along the sideline, got a great downfield block by fellow receiver Brandon LaFell, and dived into the end zone. The 15-yard touchdown matched the number of touchdown passes — one — that Amendola caught in the regular season, when he had just 27 catches for 200 yards, by far the lowest in Amendola’s five full seasons.
Amendola scored his second touchdown of the game on a play that will be shown over and over and over again. Lined up on the left side along with Julian Edelman, Amendola hauled in a perfect pass from Edelman on a play he said they’ve been practicing “for about five years. It was a play we had in the books for a little while now, but it ended up working out.”
Did it ever. Brady threw a lateral to Edelman behind the line of scrimmage, with Amendola continuing his go route down the left sideline, in front of the Patriots bench. Edelman, a former college quarterback at Kent State, lofted a gorgeous pass and hit Amendola in stride at the Ravens’ 18-yard line. He raced in untouched for the 51-yard score that tied the game at 28 and had Gillette shaking with excitement.
“He put it on the money, that’s for sure,” Amendola said. “It was a good throw.”
Amendola saved his last highlight play for the most important time. After a Baltimore field goal put the Ravens ahead, 31-28, in the fourth quarter, the Patriots began their march on what would become the game-winning drive from their own 26.
They needed 10 plays to go the distance, taking the lead on a 23-yard strike from Brady to LaFell. But that touchdown might not have happened were it not for Amendola’s clutch catch three plays before. With the Patriots facing a third-and-6 from Baltimore’s 44, the same play was called in the huddle, the one that Amendola took into the end zone for the 15-yard score in the first quarter.
This time he again caught a short pass from Brady, and again shook a Ravens tackler. Spotting the first-down marker, Amendola dragged a defender to the stick, extending the ball just past the line to gain a key first down.
“I knew the coverage, I knew there were going to be only one or two guys over there,” Amendola said. “That was the same play we scored on down in the corner there, so I just wanted to break a tackle.
“Just try to break as many tackles, try to stay inbounds, try to get as many yards as I can. It ended up working out.”
Now Amendola and the Patriots are where they were a year ago, in the AFC Championship game. The opponent might be the same — assuming the Broncos beat the Colts on Sunday — but the venue will be different. The Patriots will be hosting the AFC title game for the third time in four years, one step away from another Super Bowl appearance.
Straining to hear the soft-spoken Amendola, there was no mistaking how he feels about coming to the Patriots, even though he hasn’t put up eye-popping personal numbers. On this team, the sum is more important than the parts.
“Playing meaningful football at the end of the season is what we all dream about, what we work so hard for,” Amendola said.