Dec. 10--FOXBORO -- Danny Amendola has become one of the league's premier route runners, and his proficiency for carving his way through a defense has made him incalculably valuable to Tom Brady this season, especially while others are on the mend.
Amendola does the majority of his work between the numbers, sometimes bobbing and weaving with cornerbacks, safeties and linebackers all at once. It's sometimes similar to crossing the street amid a couple car accidents, but Amendola always knows the best route to the ball, even if the path changes shape on any given play.
Point is, when Tom Brady looks Amendola's way, the quarterback doesn't care what the receiver has to fight through to find an open patch of grass. The only thing that matters is Brady has developed enough trust to know Amendola will indeed get there.
It's a cumulative effect, from the slot receiver's desire to study fellow Texas Tech alum Wes Welker back in college, to Amendola's offseason trips to California to run routes with Brady. There's an art to running the perfect route, time after time after time.
"A lot of work goes into it, a lifetime's worth of work, a career's worth of work," Amendola said. "It's constantly evolving and constantly changing. Every route is different, too. Experience helps, too."
Amendola pulled off a beautiful triple move Sunday to shake Eagles cornerback Walter Thurmond for an 11-yard touchdown. After motioning inside of Brandon LaFell to the left slot, he put Thurmond on roller skates by faking a slant and showing a fade, and he then sold a post before breaking to the corner.
The slant hurt Thurmond because that's a natural route against a blitz with man coverage and a single safety over the middle. The fade then froze cornerback Eric Rowe, who squared up over LaFell. The post created an extra step of separation with Thurmond, and that's when Brady made the throw, trusting Amendola to make that final move and meet the ball by the pylon.
"It's a lot of practice on that route," Amendola said. "We do that route a lot in practice. We don't necessarily do it a lot in games. We've got a lot of reps on that route. I think it was a blitz-1 look, so (Brady) had to get the ball off quick. And if you look at the film, he had a couple guys in his face, so timing was an issue. I knew that, too, while running the route. In that case, a lot of experience paid off for both of us."
To think, Amendola did it all on a knee that still hasn't gotten anywhere close to 100 percent, but that's anything but a surprise to Brady and the rest of his teammates. Amendola played 14 games, including the playoffs, on a torn groin in 2013 before enduring a surgical procedure that likely impacted his effectiveness at the start of 2014.
His value skyrocketed during the final two games of the 2014 regular season and into the playoffs, as he showcased the true potential of his game when it's not restricted by an injury that makes it difficult to walk.
The benefits have carried into this season, and Amendola has 56 receptions for 582 yards and three touchdowns. He already has more catches than either of his previous two seasons with the Patriots, and he has matched a career high with three scores, which also equal his total visits to the end zone in 2013 and 2014. Amendola is on pace for 76 receptions and a career-best 794 yards.
Again, it goes back to the route execution, and there have been occasions this season when he has been reminiscent of Welker, not with his overall game or the totality in his body of work but in the way they set up a break over the middle of the field. Amendola has always been compared to Welker, who left Texas Tech as Amendola arrived in 2004, and he has used the modest similarities in their games to his advantage in film review.
"We're different players. We run routes differently," Amendola said. "He is a great, next-level route runner, always has been since he got in the league. He is good with his feet. He is really quick. I've watched a lot of film on him since college. I've learned a lot of things from him."
Amendola, through repetition, has continued to evolve. It showed again Sunday on a third-and-11 in the third quarter when Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins led him into a bottleneck in the right seam, but Amendola cut over the middle to break free from Jenkins, catch the pass, absorb a hit from Thurmond a yard short of the sticks and ultimately gain 14 yards.
In this bottom-line business, it doesn't matter how you get open. Amendola just keeps finding ways.
"I definitely haven't mastered (the route-running aspect), but I think I'm getting better and better at it," Amendola said. "A lot of routes depend on other guys in other routes, too. It kind of depends on what route you're running. There's a lot of different ways to create separation. To explore all of them, it gives you that many more tools."