Although it would end up being a career game, Danny Amendola got off to a shaky start on Saturday. After Baltimore scored quickly, Amendola fumbled his first kickoff return, but fortunately the Patriots recovered it. Then Amendola appeared to make a clutch catch on 3rd and 11 during the drive, but the official ruling of a completed pass was overturned because he had used the ground to secure the ball. The Patriots stalled out there, and I feared that after a couple of solid weeks, Amendola might be stalling out himself. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded, as he went on to have his best game yet with the Patriots. It was a great time to be an Amendola fan.
There was lots of favorable press on Amendola this week, but perhaps the Boston Globe said it best: Amendola has a grasp of playoff football.
"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."
In case you missed it (or just want to watch it again), here's the trick play.
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.
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."
Unfortunately, Sunday marked the end of the season for Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez, and Wes Welker as the Indianapolis Colts upset the Red Raider-heavy Denver Broncos. The Broncos and (an injured) Peyton Manning have not looked like themselves lately, and the offense struggled to put up points after their first drive on Sunday.
As soon as the game ended, many started to question Welker's future with the Broncos, as he will become a free agent in March. Others began to talk of his potential retirement. Here's a somewhat depressing take on his future from the Denver Post:
What's next for Wes Welker? Do you even care one way or another? The valiant receiver didn't have his best season, catching only 49 passes for two touchdowns (in 14 games), after 73 catches and 10 scores in 2013. He turns 34 in May, and we all know his concussion history. Perhaps he retires. But it's hard to see him latching onto a team that isn't a Super Bowl contender, just to keep playing. And would a Super Bowl contender truly want Welker as a key cog in its offense?
At this point, I choose to remember Welker's long and successful career in the NFL and recall that he has been one of the most prolific undrafted free agents ever to play the game. I will be sad to see his career end but hope he can leave on a good note. Wes Welker embodies all that it means to be a Red Raider.