We knew this was going to happen, didn’t we?
Well, guess what? He’s out already. It’s Week 2 and the perceived star receiver missed Thursday night’s rain-soaked 13-10 survival of the hapless Jets to mark the first of what the NFL Network reports will be a two-to-six week absence because of a groin injury.
So many questions arose when the news broke. Let’s tackle some of the more prudent ones.
Was signing the injury-prone Amendola over the proven and durable Welker indeed a mistake, as many felt it was even prior to his latest ailment?
Naturally, this was the first thought that crossed my mind when Amendola started showing visible discomfort with his groin in Buffalo, and that was before it was known he would miss time. It’s also about the least practical notion because what’s done is done, but that won’t stop us from analyzing this decision for years to come or comparing the stats from week-to-week.
My answer here is yes, though I recognize it’s not that simple and many will consider the issue to be incomplete. Personally, I didn’t like the acquisition of Amendola, at least in the sense that his arrival meant the departure of the franchise’s all-time receptions leader. It wasn’t so much an indictment of the player as it was his past. There’s no disputing that he’s younger and faster than Welker, and he may even be more talented. Plus, with a five-year deal, he certainly projects to be better at 32 than Welker will be at 37, if the latter is even still playing.
But, in 36-year-old Tom Brady’s window of, ya know, being Tom Brady, it’s important to acknowledge what’s best for the Patriots in the short-term, and that was keeping Welker. Why are the Pats concerning themselves with 2017? Why not surround one of the best quarterbacks in the league with the best possible receiving corps? Peyton Manning sure isn’t hard up for targets in Denver.
Had the Pats wanted, really wanted, to bring Welker back, he’d be here. However, Bill Belichick didn’t like Welker’s string of foot-references concerning Rex Ryan’s fetish, and he couldn’t have enjoyed the star receiver going on TV after a big game and saying, “It’s kinda nice to stick it in Bill's face every once in a while,” after many felt he was being phased out of the offense in favor of Julian Edelman. Welker didn’t appreciate his ex-coach’s treatment of him at times, either. Doesn’t matter. Everyone could have figured it out, just as they’d done for six historic years.
If Amendola winds up catching around 100 balls a year for his five seasons in New England, this will be nothing more than an unmemorable footnote.
Was bringing Amendola back for the second-half of last weekend’s win in Buffalo the right decision, though the Patriots may not have won the game without his inspiring late-game heroics?
Hard to say. Obviously, if the Pats had any fears over doing more harm than good in the long-term, they would not have sacrificed the short-term. Then again, that’s sort of a metaphor for what they’re doing at the receiver position, isn’t it?
Amendola was sensational against the Bills as he out-Welkered Welker in his new team debut with 10 catches, 104 yards, and some dramatic third-down receptions. Welker finished with nine grabs for 67 yards, though he also scored two touchdowns for the Broncos.
Not a one of us would say Amendola isn’t tough, but toughness doesn’t prevent a guy from being susceptible to injury or even lessen the reputation. His history of freak or bad luck elbow, clavicle, and foot ailments followed him very quickly to Foxborough with a groin problem that we probably all expect to linger – not because it’s Amendola; it’s just what those types of setbacks tend to do.
Plus, it’s hard not to imagine Welker playing last night, groin injury or not. That guy would sneak himself a horse tranquilizer over missing a game.
Will the goodwill Amendola earned with fans from that gutsy performance last the longer his injury persists?
No. It’s not that Amendola doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. After all, the Pats may very well have started 0-1 without him. But, that’s just not the way it works.
The team has a banged up offense with a bunch of struggling rookies, and now the new guy who’s replacing a fan favorite and has incredibly high expectations – and also just so happens to have sat out 22 contests over his first four seasons – will potentially miss significant time after only one game. That, unfortunately, is a recipe for criticism. It’d be nice if those complaints waited a few weeks since there’s a big difference between missing two games and six, but it wouldn’t be surprising to hear his detractors dialing their favorite local talk shows today. It won’t be pretty if he’s still nowhere to be found when that stretch with the Falcons, Bengals, and Saints starts after next week’s tilt with the Bucs.
Try to remember here, though, that he’s merely guilty of being wanted – the Patriots elected to sign him.
How deeply will Amendola’s absence be felt throughout the team as it pertains to game-planning and personnel decisions?
Very. For starters, the load Amendola is expected to carry from game-to-game will have to be picked up elsewhere, whether that’s by the also health-challenged Edelman serving as Brady’s primary target (which we already observed against the Jets), or by any number of freshman pass-catchers still finding their way in the NFL. Add to that, Rob Gronkowski is still on the shelf and likely will take weeks to become the Gronk we all know and love even once he does return.
For however long Amendola is missing, everyone will have to take on more responsibility, something that no one other than Edelman did on Thursday when he finished with 13 of the Pats’ 19 receptions. For Brady to run his offense with the flow and consistency that he normally does, the new guys will have to know where to go and what to do when they get there. If a lack of trust, execution, or ammunition is an issue, the hurry-up could quickly become a slow-down. Either way, the defense will continue to spend significantly more time on the field if the offense fails to sustain its drives.
A shortage of targets for Brady could also mean more of an emphasis will be placed on the running game, where Stevan Ridley is struggling to hold onto the football and much of the rest of the depth at the position has already spent time in the infirmary. That includes another hero from Week 1, Shane Vereen, who will be out until at least Week 11. He’ll be missed as a pass-catching back as well, an area where he shined against the Bills with seven catches. James Develin caught one for four yards versus the Jets.
All of the above only considers the challenges the Patriots face in their offensive game-planning. No Amendola in sight may mean simpler preparations for opposing defenses, too.
And, of course, how ticked off is Tom Brady right about now?
Judging by his body language on the field, extremely. Not that the future Hall of Famer is light in the wallet, but Brady left money on the table when he signed a five-year extension to presumably put a bow on his career as a Patriot. It’s safe to assume he wanted some of that dough to go to Welker, his good friend and favorite target. Alas, the team moved on.
The Pats also decided to cut ties with Brandon Lloyd (who they now want back), and allowed Danny Woodhead (a guy they could really use with Vereen out) to leave as a free agent. The club did try to bring in Emmanuel Sanders from the Steelers, but their offer fell short. Other things, of course, cannot be anticipated, like Vereen’s lengthy injury or Aaron Hernandez killing multiple people, allegedly, of course. Amendola going down before Gronkowski’s return from five surgeries doesn’t help.
After that, the patience-lacking Brady is left with Edelman – a versatile but somewhat inexperienced player re-signed for the veteran’s minimum in the offseason – and a number of talented rookies who, so far, have looked lost. To this point, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Zach Sudfeld, and Josh Boyce have caught just nine balls and dropped many others among their 34 targets, accounting for 145 yards and a touchdown through two nail-biting wins.
By the end of the season, or even mid-season, the Patriots may have a very deep roster offensively. Right now, it’s thin, ailing, and missing that special piece.
For one week, Danny Amendola reminded us all of Wes Welker. But, now, he just reminds us of, well, Danny Amendola.
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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