ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The trickle of vitriol began Thursday night.
Before Danny Amendola even took his first snap as a Patriot, the Twitterati were asking, “Tell me why the Patriots didn’t re-sign Wes Welker again?”
Welker, showing he’ll be just as outstanding catching passes from Peyton Manning as he was for Tom Brady, figured big in the Denver Broncos season-opening win. With nine catches for 67 yards and two touchdown receptions, a lot of people weren’t going to wait around to see if Amendola could play as well on Sunday as Welker had.
"Cheap-ass Patriots will live to regret not re-signing Welker."
And this was from people in New England, a mentality fed somewhat by a high regard for Welker and even more for a swath of the local populace that feels the need to kick rocks whenever possible.
By halftime Sunday, that vitriol trickle turned into a cascade. Amendola was doubled over on the sidelines with a groin injury and the strange desire to have Amendola fulfill his injury-prone rep won out. Derisive tweets questioning Amendola’s toughness rained down.
The sampling at the bottom of this story represents a fraction of the ones directed my way.
Yet 30 minutes of football later, not a peep.
“He gets a little dinged up and it turns into a big deal,” scoffed Amendola’s teammate LeGarrette Blount. “And how many yards did he have receiving?”
That would be 104 on 10 catches. Nine of them good for first downs. Seven of those nine on third-down receptions. His final catch, a 10-yarder in heavy traffic on third-and-8 from the Bills 39, a reception that was the catalyst for the Patriots to dodge the ignominy of a loss to the Bills and escape with a 23-21 win.
“Talk all this trash about him and he comes out here and performs exactly how they want him to,” added Blount. “Now people that were talking about him are gonna change their mind.”
Welker love rightly runs deep around Boston. So too does bitterness that the Patriots haven’t had a Super Bowl parade through the Hub of the Universe since 2005. A fanbase that gutted it out from 1918 until 2004 waiting for the Red Sox to win a World Series has little patience for the Patriots not winning a fourth Super Bowl since 2001. Personnel decisions Bill Belichick makes are viewed with a jaundiced eye. Even when it means swapping out a 32-year-old for his 27-year-old clone.
Wes Welker would have had better chemistry with Tom Brady on Sunday. But I’m not sure he could have made some of the catches Amendola made, despite playing in pain.
After halftime, these were Amendola’s receptions: 3rd-and-3, gained 6; 3rd-and-6, gained 19; 3rd-and-10, gained 13; 3rd-and-3, gained 6; 2nd-and-4, gained 6; 1st-and-15, gained 4; 3rd-and-8, gained 10.
On an afternoon that featured the inexperienced Patriots wideouts running into each other with alarming regularity, Amendola was the only sure thing Tom Brady had.
“He gave it all he had and that is all you can ask,” Brady said later. “I thought he was going to be out for the rest of the game [after leaving with the groin injury]. He showed a lot of toughness, mental and physical and he made some really great plays for us.”
Amendola is well aware of the preconceived notions people carry about him being injury prone. He’s well-acquainted with Welker’s greatness as well, having followed Welker at Texas Tech.
Asked whether he understands his performance is going to measured against Welker’s for the foreseeable future, Amendola laughed and said, “I was a senior in high school when I was going to Texas Tech and Wes was catching 15 balls a game. I’ve been watching Wes play at a very high level for a very long time. I’m just excited to be here. Wes is a great player. He’s one of the best and most productive receivers to ever play the game. He’s really innovated the slot position and I’ve learned a lot from him.”
Amendola wasn’t taking any victory laps about his contributions Sunday. He kept his remarks general and low-key.
He had teammates to speak a few words on his behalf, though.
“Tough dude,” said Matt Slater. “My hat’s off to him. I have a lot of respect for him, I already did coming into today but he fought through it when we needed him. This was a win that didn’t come easy for us and we needed guys to step up and he did that for us. You need teammates like that who can step up when times get tough and he did that.”
Said Blount, “It’s always good to see someone shut people up. I love when guys go out and prove people wrong. Don’t judge until you know.”
@tomecurran really Amendola can't even make it to half time amazing— mgreenlee_13 (@mngreen13) September 8, 2013
@tomecurran somewhere in Denver Welker is laughing— J P (@H8NYY) September 8, 2013
@tomecurran upon further review by the medical staff of Amendola's groin area, the results are in, there's nothing there.— Andy Ferreira (@andycferreira) September 8, 2013
@tomecurran Way to go Bill you self center dink. He will be lucky if he play 1/2 the season.— Michael Fitzmaurice (@mike52006) September 8, 2013
@tomecurran haha. Still think he's going to have a 100 catches? What a joke.— Corey Machowski (@Thecolours) September 8, 2013