After Wes Welker left New England for Denver in the offseason, Danny Amendola was quickly brought in. The thought was simple: replace one Texas Tech slot receiver with another.
Things didn't work out as planned.
A disappointing season for Amendola ended with Sunday's loss to the Broncos in the AFC title game, a game in which the fifth-year pro was shut out on the stat sheet.
AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst feels that may have been by design and applauds Denver's ability to completely take Amendola out of the game:
Bill Belichick is well-known for his defensive strategy of eliminating his opponents’ best weapon. However, it was the Broncos defense that employed the tactic Sunday, winning 26-16 while holding Amendola to zero catches on one target.
Though Tom Brady ended the day 24-of-38 for 277 yards and both a passing and rushing touchdown, it took him until the fourth quarter to find a rhythm. By taking Amendola out of the equation, Denver forced Brady to find other options.
This was a game in which the Patriots had to pass the ball well, especially after being down 13-3 at the half and eventually 23-3. Though Brady connected with Julian Edelman 10 times on 15 targets for 89 yards and a score, his next-most productive receiver was running back Shane Vereen, with five catches for 59 yards.
No one but Edelman saw double-digit targets.
The Broncos made the Patriots one-dimensional by taking an early lead and eliminating the running threat. Had Edelman been a factor early, the entire complexion of the game could have been different. Instead, a passing offense that has dealt with an ever-shrinking receiving corps saw it constrict even further.
Though Edelman has been Brady’s No. 1 receiver this year, with 105 regular-season catches for 1,056 yards and six scores, Amendola has been the Swiss army knife over the middle much as Welker was in the past. Brady hasn’t been a deep-shot quarterback this season because of his receiving corps, so the short-middle targets that Amendola has seen all year have been invaluable.
Without Amendola, Vereen and Austin Collie needed to pick up the slack, but neither are particularly dangerous or explosive players. It was a smart approach by the Broncos defensively, one that gave the Patriots a taste of their own medicine.
There are ways to make Brady uncomfortable, and removing a favored receiver is an underutilized and effective one. Pressure isn’t the only way to keep Brady from methodically shredding his way down the field.