There was a time and place for Danny Amendola. It was Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
As the New England Patriots traveled to East Rutherford to face the New York Jets for Week 16, the team did so without the production of Julian Edelman, whose thigh injury and concussion kept 92 receptions, 972 yards and four touchdowns at home in Foxborough. But another wide receiver with 15 catches for 113 yards and one touchdown on the season would be traveling along with them.
Amendola stepped offensive huddle Sunday afternoon having started just two games on the season. He stepped in having played no more than 18 offensive snaps over the Patriots’ last four games. He stepped in having been held without a catch in six games, and having held no more than three catches for 35 yards in one game.
Those numbers would soon change.
Amendola started the Dec. 21 contest, then he finished it with his third-highest snap total of the season. Between the beginning and end, he left his mark however he could get the football, tacking on 90 yards on five kick returns and 60 yards on three punt returns.
A total of 217 all-purpose yards were the byproduct for Amendola. Yet those yards were not exclusive to special teams; a total of 63 of them arrived via quarterback Tom Brady.
From the slot and flanker positions, the second-year Patriots wideout ran, caught and ran some more, catching eight of the 11 passes thrown his way. And along the way, he provided the offense with exactly what it needed over New York.
Quick, succinct dependability against a Jets 3-4 rush that managed to sack Brady four times and limit the ground game to nine yards over the first half.
Amendola served as a 5-foot-11, 195-pound safety valve over that span. But there were only three offensive glimpses from him before intermission. Brady first found him on a nine-yard whip route on 2nd-and-10 with 6:14 left in the first. Then the two connected again two minutes later for an 11-yard out route on 1st-and-10. And at the 13:38 mark in the second, a seven-yard curl route on 3rd-and-3 rekindled them for a third time.
The volume was raised in the second half, though. And the results would keep the pilot light on for the Patriots’ offense.
With the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Brady hit Amendola on a short curl. Jets rookie safety Calvin Pryor closed high and tight from there, ripping the receiver’s helmet to the turf. Yet Amendola did not hit the turf along with it; he set his feet in position to shed around to the right sideline.
The three-yard gain was insignificant, but multiple gains of that variety were not. They added up.
Amendola would be looked back to on the next play, a 2nd-and-7. The result was another curl route and a seven-yard pickup. And with that, the first five passes in Amendola’s direction had netted five completions for 37 yards.
Brady would miss his next try, as a flat route with 19 seconds remaining the third gave way to a short-hopped pass wide of its crosshairs. Then he would miss as a 1st-and-15 out route with 7:30 to go in the fourth fell just shy of a diving Amendola, and again as a 2nd-and-7 curl route with 4:42 remaining sailed high of its intended recipient.
Their final three passes would be different.
Up by one with under five minutes left, Brady invested his trust in the former Texas Tech undrafted free agent, not unlike he did in the 2013 season opener against the Buffalo Bills, when four completions pieced together the game’s winning drive.
This time, it wouldn’t be a game-winning drive. But it would be a drive that’d keep the Jets from winning.
The previous incompletion set up the Patriots for a crucial 3rd-and-7 with 4:38 to play on Sunday. Amendola motioned from flanker to stack the slot behind fellow wideout Brian Tyms thenceforth. And at that juncture, Brady fired one to him on a quick screen.
It was straight ahead from there.
Amendola traced the blocks of Tyms, guard Ryan Wendell and center Bryan Stork to reach the sticks. A challenge by Jets head coach Rex Ryan followed before the ruling was upheld and New York had been charged its second timeout.
A second pass in a row to Amendola followed after a penalty pushed New England back to combat 1st-and-15. The in-cut took seven yards of that deficit back. And on the very next play, a 2nd-and-8 with 3:25 left, Brady and Amendola brought the Patriots into a surplus.
It came to fruition with a 12-yard pivot route opposite defensive back Antonio Allen.
One cut inside, one cut outside and that would be enough.
Three handoffs to running back Brandon Bolden and three kneel-downs with Brady finalized it as time expired. But Amendola’s time did not expire at any point on Sunday. He was fundamental to each passing situation, amassing three receptions on first down, three on second down and two on third down versus the New York secondary.
But he also carried over when when the offense hinged upon it, amassing all three of fourth-quarter receptions in one minute and 13 seconds during the team’s final 11-play drive.
That was, in many ways, the difference in a divisional battle that had very few.
Amendola’s presence resonated more at the end of Sunday’s game than it did the start.
And with 54 percent of his offensive production arriving within it, perhaps the same will once be said of his presence in New England’s 2014 season.