If there was any doubt about how big of an impact player Danny Amendola could be in this offense or questioned his toughness, whatever critics he may have had should be a little quieter after seeing his performance during New England's 23-21 win over the Buffalo Bills.
Amendola, who had been limited in practice for much of the week with a groin injury, made his Patriots debut against the Bills on Sunday and hauled in 10 passes for 104 yards. His injury hampered him in the first half and forced him to leave toward the end of the 2nd quarter, but he received treatment at half time and fortunately came out and was a huge contributing factor in New England's victory over the Bills.
In the final two quarters, Amendola caught 7 passes, five of which came in the final quarter of play and four of them were during New England's game winning drive as Amendola twice converted a 3rd down and kept the chains moving. His second third down grab was huge, as the Patriots were facing a 3rd-and-8 from the Bills 39 yard line and were in dire need of trying to get into field goal range to give Stephen Gostkowski a shot at winning the game.
On that play Amendola made a terrific catch, taking a tough shot from Bills safety Aaron Williams and somehow managed to hold onto the football. That reception extended the drive and gave Shane Vereen the opportunity for his ensuing 15-yard run that helped set up Gostkowski's field goal.
He made some critical catches throughout the game. Of his 10 receptions, seven of them came on 3rd down - all conversions. Two more also went for first downs. After the game he credited Tom Brady's pinpoint accuracy and the play from the other guys in the offense for the reason he was able to have a big day.
"It's a testament to Tom [Brady] putting the ball on the money and the O-line and the guys around in the huddle," Amendola told WBZ after the game. "So it was a big win for us."
Overall the Patriots converted eleven 3rd downs on Sunday, which means Amendola was responsible for 64% of them. He's quickly carving out a nice role for himself in this offense, although it would be hard to imagine him keeping this pace all season. It's a long year and it's obviously going to be a little more critical some of the rookies to become more involved in the offense. Veteran Julian Edelman joined Amendola as the other bright spot on Sunday, finishing with seven receptions on nine targets for 79 yards and two touchdowns.
Unfortunately none of the rookies fared well, as Kenbrell Thompkins struggled in his NFL debut, and Josh Boyce had his number called twice but didn't have a reception. Rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld was completely shut down and the one pass that did go his way went off his hands and into the arms of a Bills defender and set up the touchdown that got the Bills back in the game.
For now Amendola is off to a good start, and the way he toughed out Sunday's win seems to have garnered Brady's respect. Now he'll have to spend this short week trying to get healthy so he can hopefully go out and have another big game Thursday night when the Jets come to Foxboro.
"He really toughed it out, which was pretty impressive," said Brady of Amendola. "He fought all day. We've got a whole team full of fighters. I think there's going to be some ugly wins, but we're always going to fight and we're just going to fight today and it's not an easy place to play. We've always had tough games up here."
"I mean he played...gave everything he got, so that's all you can ask. Who knew what to expect when he came out there in the second half? I thought he was going to be out for the rest of the game. He showed a lot of toughness, mental and physical, and made really the plays of the game for us along with Julian [Edelman], Shane [Vereen], offensive line played great, ran a bunch of plays on opening day. So it's a short turnaround, hopefully we can get some good night rest and start getting ready for the Jets tomorrow."