Losing Julian Edelman is like losing a fair amount of lung capacity. In previous seasons, his ability to do whatever needed to be done allowed you to breathe easier. You could bank on him and that production coming out of the slot.
Danny Amendola was supposed to be that guy back when the Patriots signed him in 2013. Turns out he’s not, but it’s hardly a critique. His durability will always be in question. He’s just not built to absorb kill shot after kill shot. However, Amendola’s a hell of a lot closer to being a key part of this Patriot team’s anatomy than say, your appendix. So it was curious to see the Pats throw caution to the wind and roll out Amendola play after play after play in Thursday night’s opener.
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Thirty-two snaps at wide receiver. Seven punt returns. No surprise to see him break. Amendola suffered a concussion.
So much for the general feeling that Amendola would be on a “pitch” count, and the Pats would monitor his playing time like they had the year prior.
“Well, if a player’s cleared to play and he’s healthy, then we would, for the most part, just operate normally like any other player,” Bill Belichick said Monday when asked if a player’s past injury history would alter the manner in which he was deployed. “It might depend on the individual circumstance or situation, but I think if the player’s healthy, then we treat him like he’s healthy."
Earlier this summer, Amendola gushed that he felt like he was 24 years old all over again. That said, the Pats took a cautious route with the 31-year-old, holding him out of practice for a time, then not letting him be a full-go for others. Preservation seemed to be very much at the forefront of Belichick and the training staff’s mind.
Did the Edelman injury change that? Should it have?
The answer both before Amendola’s injury and now after is the same: Hell no.
We know what the player’s body can tolerate. He’s not as sturdy as Edelman, and, let’s not forget, Edelman hasn’t been an ironman either. He missed seven games in 2015. A couple the year prior. Now he’s done before the season starts. That position chews you up and spits you out. When Wes Welker left New England, he was already cooked, no matter what the numbers in his first season in Denver say. The requisite quickness had been used up.
Amendola is still quick. He was the only reliable target Brady had in the loss to the Chiefs. A half-dozen catches for a hundred yards even. The only player who consistently beat man-to-man coverage. That’s why the Pats kept leaning on him, until he finally broke.
From the moment Amendola exited, the Pats offense went from slightly erratic to awful. The first offensive play went for 54 yards on that bomb to Brandin Cooks down the left sideline. After that, the Pats ran 22 plays for a grand total of 35 yards, and one of those plays went for 26 to James White. (Where did he go Thursday night?) That’s about as inefficient as a team can be, from an offense and a quarterback that are consistently the most efficient in the league. At one point, Brady flipped a deep pass down the field to Philip Dorsett, who just arrived in Foxboro days prior. Dorsett and the football were barely in the same area code. Hard to prepare for such a scenario, but it underscores the overall impact of both Edelman and Amendola.
“Yeah, I mean this happens or you have to be ready for it to happen each week so it’s truly not anything new,” said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels the day after the loss. “We've had players that have less experience that have to play and you have to adjust and still give everybody out there an opportunity that they’re comfortable doing, that they know how to do well.”
Based on the play calling for a better part of the night, but certainly after Amendola exited, what McDaniels decided they do well is run as fast and as far as they can go. Evolution of the offense? More vertical than horizontal? Or limitations based on time and skill-set of those that remained in the lineup.
“Whether we have to shrink some of the things we could or couldn’t do, that’s just part of football,” said McDaniels. “Each week whether it’s before the game starts you have injuries or inactives or whatever it might be, or during the game you have an injury that may affect something. That happens to every team every single week during the year. We have no excuses whatsoever. We didn’t play good enough. We didn’t coach good enough. It starts with me on offense. We've got to do a lot of work here to try and make progress and improve, so hopefully, we can play better next week.”
With the potential of being without Amendola Sunday in New Orleans, McDaniels will be challenged again. This is on him to find a solution. He’s got a bunch of puzzle pieces. He needs to find the right fits. And when Amendola finally does return, it’ll be on the offensive coordinator to protect the guy who was his best playmaker in Week 1 because he won’t protect himself.