We expect greatness from Tom Brady, even with an injured throwing hand, and he didn't disappoint in rallying the defending-champion New England Patriots from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit past the Jacksonville Jaguars and to the eighth Super Bowl of his unparalleled career.
That Brady's most clutch player with Rob Gronkowski knocked out with a concussion before halftime and Julian Edelman lost for the season in August was Danny Amendola was surprising ... but should it have been?
Don't forget that Amendola was instrumental in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history last year, and he was even better Sunday, scoring the Pats' final 14 points to turn a 20-10 deficit with nine minutes remaining into a stunning 24-20 victory. He finished with seven catches for 84 yards and the two scores, plus a vital punt return late — all of them clutch and needed desperately by a Patriots team that was pushed around by Blake Bortles and the visitors for the better part of three quarters.
Brandin Cooks went over 100 receiving yards against the NFL's best pair of corners and drew two monster defensive pass-interference flags. Phillip Dorsett made his biggest play in his time with the Patriots on a 31-yard flea flicker on New England's fourth-quarter drive to cut the lead to three.
Stephon Gilmore sealed the victory with a ridiculous leaping pass breakup on fourth down to end the Jaguars' last-ditch drive. And the Patriots' pass rush — headed by newcomer James Harrison — heated up with a pressure and a strip-sack on the Jaguars' final two third downs to give Brady and Amendola a chance.
So it's not like Amendola didn't have help. But it was Amendola, whom the Patriots leaned on again and again, who made the biggest difference. He caught a third-and-18 conversion from Brady for 21 yards with just more than 10 minutes left, as Brady looking off a Jaguars safety just long enough to find Amendola down the right seam. It also was Amendola making a diving catch just two plays later to move the chains and one play before his first touchdown to make it 20-17.
Then, after the teams exchanged punts, Amendola positioned New England inside Jaguars territory on the game-winning drive with a 20-yard punt return. Amazingly, he wasn't done. Channeling Gronkowski, Amendola plucked Brady's jump ball on the back line of the end zone for a soaring 4-yard score that would ultimately vault New England back to the Super Bowl.
Amendola's yeoman performance came one week after his first career 100-yard postseason game helped New England stomp out the Titans. And it was Amendola — with a healthy Edelman — whose fourth quarter touchdown (part of his 7-65-1 second half in Super Bowl LI) that pulled the Patriots within one possession vs. the Falcons.
New England knew it would need to produce in the middle of the field vs. a team with lockdown boundary corners. Many assumed Gronk and the Pats' excellent pass-catching backs would be the movers and shakers. Instead, it was Amendola, again.
Against either Minnesota or Philadelphia, both excellent defenses with at least a relatively minor susceptibility in the middle of the field, it'd be wise not to overlook Amendola. We know Brady will be looking his way in plenty of big moments of Super Bowl LII.