COMMENTARY| The New England Patriots eked out a come-from-behind win by knocking off the Buffalo Bills 23-21 on a late field goal in their first game of the 2013 season. While the team has a number of concerns they need to address moving forward, wide receiver Danny Amendola, who had a huge game, has emerged as their biggest problem.
There were plenty of issues following the Patriots' narrow win. Starting running back Stevan Ridley was benched following a crucial fumble; versatile running back Shane Vereen broke his wrist; and linebacker Brandon Spikes exited with dehydration shortly after the start of the game.
Amendola was one of the heroes, hauling in 10 passes for 104 yards after briefly departing with a groin injury in the second quarter, in his New England debut. Despite his gritty and impressive performance, the team should be alarmed by what they saw.
It became clear as the game wore on that Brady had rapidly developed trust issues with the offense. He increasingly focused in on Amendola, receiver Julian Edelman and Vereen. In fact, during the game winning drive, which consisted of 11 plays, Brady went to either Amendola or Vereen on all nine of the plays that were not quarterback keepers.
Brady had good reason for his mistrust. In addition to Ridley's fumbling woes, backup running back LeGarrette Blount mustered just 15 yards on seven carries.
The veteran quarterback attempted to get receiver Kenbrell Thompkins involved in the passing attack, targeting him with 14 throws (tying Amendola for most on the team). Unfortunately, the undrafted rookie had trouble getting separation from Buffalo's defensive backs and finished with just four catches for 42 yards.
Fellow rookie, tight end Zach Sudfeld, who was expected to replace star Rob Gronkowski until he is able to return from injury, fared even worse. The one pass thrown his way went through his hands and was intercepted after he stumbled out of his route. The mistake led to a Buffalo touchdown and the youngster not getting another look during the game.
By virtue of his teammates' inconsistencies, Amendola became Brady's security blanket. Although he was able to grit through his injury and help the team win the game, his health and the level to which the quarterback obviously already depends on him should concern the team.
Amendola has battled the label of an injury prone player throughout his career. In his first four seasons, all spent with the St. Louis Rams, he missed a total of 22 games, including all but one in 2011, because of injuries. He sat out much of the final two weeks of preseason this year because of his groin, but was considered healthy enough to suit up against Buffalo.
By nature, football is a brutal sport that sidelines vast numbers of players every year. Even if the Patriots' new receiver isn't injury prone, the way he showed how essential he already is to the offense could bring about critical mass if he has to miss even the briefest of time in the future.
Brady has a tendency of developing chemistry with receivers and using them as his outlet in tight situations. In addition to Welker, Troy Brown and Deion Branch have served that role in the past.
When Welker tore up his knee prior to the 2009 playoffs after having caught 123 passes during the regular season, the loss of his security blanket was immediate on Brady. The quarterback passed for just 154 yards and three interceptions, as New England was demolished 33-14 by the Baltimore Ravens in the postseason.
Since Brady clearly has already forged a bond with Amendola, and there are questions about his other options, there should be fear about possible repercussions if the receiver is ever out for any period of time.
Gronkowski may return in time for the Jets, or shortly thereafter. However, there are no guarantees he will be able to resume his Pro Bowl play right out of the gate after multiple offseason surgeries.
The Patriots also have three rookie receivers in addition to Sudfeld as part of their revamped passing attack. There are bound to be more growing pains and more reliance on Amendola for stability.
Amendola was vague when discussing his groin after the game. He told MassLive.com's Nick Underhill, "It's been tight. Just trying to get back and get it rolling again. It's football. It's a painful game sometimes. That's what it's about. Not really scared, but ready to get it better and ready to play."
If he has any lingering concerns, he will need to address them quickly. The Patriots are on a short week, as they will take on the New York Jets in Week 2 on Thursday, September 12. The Jets may not have one of their stronger teams in recent memory, but Rex Ryan's defenses are traditionally known for their hard-hitting ways. Amendola avoiding a re-aggravation of his groin injury will be a major story heading into the game.
The Patriots should be pleased they were able to find a receiver that has clicked so well with Brady following the departure of Welker. The signing has already paid dividends, but the reliance on him in the offense is disconcerting, especially given the team's shaky performance in Week 1. As long as Amendola is able to stay on the field, things should be fine, but the ongoing threat of his unavailability is a problem that's hard to ignore.
In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports. He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can also follow Andrew on Twitter: @HistorianAndrew.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Danny Amendola
- Shane Vereen
- Wes Welker
- Buffalo Bills