It is a motley bunch of guys: the injury-prone, life of the party tight end that when healthy is the best in the NFL, a former college quarterback turned supreme slot receiver, a free agent who had been a complete bust in New England until last week, and a much less heralded free agent who has really boosted his career by teaming with Tom Brady. The bottom line is that the Patriots’ current cast of tight ends and wide receivers are good enough to help New England win their first Super Bowl in 10 years. This is a major change from the last few seasons when Brady’s lack of receiving options was a legitimate hindrance that held the team back from another title, among other shortcomings.
Rob Gronkowski (82 catches, 1124 yards, 12 TDs in the regular season) and Julian Edelman (92 catches, 972 yards, 4 TDs in the regular season) need no introduction at this point. The emergence of Danny Amendola (5 catches, 81 yards, 2 TDs vs. Baltimore) last week and Brandon LaFell (74 catches, 953 yards, 7 TDs in regular season and 5 catches for 62 yards & 1 TD vs. Ravens) basically all season, has helped New England’s offense become more diverse and has allowed Brady to become less locked in on Gronkowski and Edelman.
It is odd how things have played out since Amendola was the sought after free agent that the Pats signed for five years and $31 million in March 2013, while LaFell was an afterthought inked to a three-year deal worth only $9 million a year later. Amendola battled injuries all last season and only managed 54 catches for 633 yards and two touchdowns in 12 regular season games. He was groomed as a replacement for Wes Welker but Edelman ended up taking that job. LaFell’s transition has been much smoother, it turns out that he was an underutilized weapon in Carolina and with one of the top quarterbacks of all-time on his side, he put up career-best marks in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches.
Since Randy Moss left the Patriots, New England had been searching for that mythical deep threat that you supposedly need to win in today’s NFL. It turns out that with players like Edelman (who is great at converting on third down catches) and LaFell (who is a machine on yards after the catch), you can still get it done in a different manner. Throw in a healthy Gronkowski – an unstoppable force of nature – and Amendola doing his best J.D. Drew in the 2007 ALCS impression, and you see the formula for Bill Belichick and Brady’s long-awaited fourth Super Bowl victory.