AFC championship: Danny Amendola's big night helps Patriots to big win

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Danny Amendola had two regular-season touchdowns for the New England Patriots during the regular season. He matched that total on Sunday in the AFC championship game.

The 32-year-old receiver played a huge role in the Patriots’ comeback against the Jacksonville Jaguars, with five catches for 56 yards and two touchdowns as well as a key punt return in the fourth quarter, as New England won its 10th AFC title in franchise history, 24-20.

Amendola was part of the play that turned the tide for New England: with 10:49 to play and the Patriots trailing, 20-10, they were facing third-and-18. Brady had taken an 8-yard sack on first down, then overthrew Chris Hogan on a deep ball on second down.

On third down, though, he looked to Amendola down the middle of the field, and Amendola made an impressive catch in traffic for a 21-yard gain.

New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola (L) celebrates one of his two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the AFC championship game. (AP)

“I think I had a little bit of an option route in the middle of the field and I saw that there was room,” Amendola explained. “I had pointed out the line [to gain the first down] before the snap, so I knew where I had to go and Tom had a laser and it was perfect.”

Four plays later, lined up in the slot, he caught the first touchdown from Brady.

Less than five minutes later, he set up the game winner. Jacksonville punted from near its own goal line, Amendola caught the ball at midfield, and returned it to the Jaguars’ 30. On second down from the 4, he caught Brady’s pass at the back of the end zone, staying inbounds for what was the winning score.

“He’s made so many big catches, and I saw he got one foot in and I just saw it up on the big screen one time,” Brady said. “He’s got great hands and just a great sense of about where he’s at on the field. I mean, he’s made so many big plays for us, and this was huge. Without that, we don’t win. It was an incredible play.”

The Patriots lost Julian Edelman for the season in August, after he suffered a torn ACL in a preseason game. And on Sunday, the team lost tight end Rob Gronkowski for the remainder of the game after Gronkowski suffered a brain injury on a helmet-to-helmet hit from the Jaguars’ Barry Church.

Amendola stepped up during the season, with 61 catches, his second-highest total since joining the Patriots in 2013, and his 659 yards were his best with the team. And he stepped up again on Sunday night, though he said he didn’t feel any additional pressure once Gronkowski was knocked out of the game.

“Every play I’m competing my tail off to try to win the route, win the block or whatever my job is on that play,” he said.

More NFL coverage from Yahoo Sports:
Brady, Pats punch Super Bowl ticket after comeback
Refs’ questionable calls help Patriots, spark debate
Ugly helmet-to-helmet hit knocks Gronk out of title game
Win or lose, Philly lampposts are greased up for fan riots
Vikings fans get a very Philly-esque welcome