The sagacious Dr. Thompson knew the heart of journalism, often quoted ..."/> The sagacious Dr. Thompson knew the heart of journalism, often quoted ..."/>

The State of Patriots’ Nation, Part 2: The return of Brady’s favorite receiver


“Journalism is a low trade and habit worse than heroin.”

The sagacious Dr. Thompson knew the heart of journalism, often quoted as calling sportswriters misfits and clowns and fools – the hired help.  He was an Oakland Raiders’ fan, a friend of John Madden.  Al Davis didn’t trust him but Richard Nixon did, and together they would spend hours talking professional football.

November 11, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; St. Louis Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola (16) catches a pass in front of San Francisco 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers (22) during the overtime at Candlestick Park. The play was called back due to illegal formation. The 49ers and the Rams tied 24-24. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It was the middle of 70’s, a time when a “Balanced” offense was a 65/35 split between running and passing, but players like Cliff Branch and Fred Blitnikoff and Dave Casper piqued his interest.  He saw these players and the Raiders as a whole as the trend setters of the time and saw the growing importance of the passing game – and the defending of such.

He was avid, such a fan of the concept and fundamentals of football that he was said to write his best pieces in complete despair of football season ending each February.  He learned from Madden and from Davis and even from Nixon – his writing capturing not the score nor the stats nor the money, but the essence…

…which makes me wonder what he’d have written when Wes Welker decided to cut his losses and sign with the Denver Broncos in March.  Probably, he would have seen it as inevitable – the result of free agency mixed with bad advice from money hungry agents.

For sure, the reaction from Patriots’ Nation was immediate and terse, but not everyone felt the same and the issue plunged the nation into a fervid “he said/she said” debate that was fueled by media speculation.

It got so bad that the normally reserved team owner Robert Kraft addressed the “Welker issue” at a candid impromptu breakfast presser in which he chided the press for blowing things out of proportion and Welker’s agent for lying about how things really went down.

Well, yeah.  Isn’t that what the press and sports agents do?

Kraft and coach Bill Belichick have little tolerance for either, and since the Patriots losing Welker to the Broncos was all the journalists seemed to want to talk about, Kraft thought he’d give them their money’s worth, then turned the floor over to Belichick, which was like throwing meat to a wolf.

Bottom line is that the Patriots do things the way they do them.  They manage the roster, draft and coach the way they see fit, and it’s worked out pretty well for the most part – but after last season’s patch job in the receiving corps got them to the AFC Championship game for the second year in a row, many fans and media members were wondering openly why Belichick would let Welker fly.

And the answer is simply because it didn’t work.

In the biggest of situations, where the light shined the brightest and the stage and the moment were larger than life itself, it just didn’t work.

This is an intangible, something that can’t be measured within the mathematical framework of statistics.  Belichick had spent his entire tenure since attrition and Brady’s torn knee-guts robbed the team of it’s identity – and he has retooled every position on the field except receiver…and it was time to try it again.

In 2007, Belichick’s attempt to retool the receivers brought in Randy Moss to give the Patriots a big time vertical threat.  That worked like a charm until the lights got bright, then it failed.  Of course, the move to bring in Moss and Brady’s reliance on him were only part of the reason why 19-0 turned into 18-1, but it was a lesson learned for Belichick.

The same season he also brought in Welker and the diminutive slot master quickly replaced “The open receiver” as Brady’s favorite target.  That also worked well until the moment was biggest – and in subsequent years the trophy slipped through the connection and wobbled to a stop on the turf.

Three AFC Title games and two Super Bowls and still no trophy.  In fact, two epic failures on the part of the Brady/Welker connection had much to do with those Lombardi trophies ending up elsewhere…

So just as Moss got run out of town, so did Welker – but under the guise of bad timing coupled with bad advice, all the while with former St. Louis Rams’ receiver Danny Amendola hunkered down at an undisclosed location in Boston, waiting for the Welker thing to unfold before he and the team made their move.

A lot of the renewed vigor surrounding the hate is due to the turnover at the receiver position, as last year’s dynamic duo of Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd are now either unemployed or may as well be, and many are concerned that the production from those spots will decline with the influx of new players…

…and who’s to say, really?  If the yardage and number of catches and yards after the catch indeed decline, yet Kraft is up on the podium with a death grip on the team’s 4th Lombardi with a team built for two or three more, what do stats matter?

This is where most of the experts climb aboard the Bandwagon of Hate, where they see that the almighty Welker is gone, yet they are blind to the fact that the team still has Tom Brady, and the only thing that has changed is Welker’s mailing address.  Brady will find the open receiver, and his options may be among the most plentiful in the NFL, when including the athletic and monstrous tight ends.

And despite attempts by reasonable people to stem the tide of comparing Danny Amendola to Welker, the comparisons persist – the most common of which is between their injury history but that, too, is a fraud…

…the stupid and wrong health questions hanging around Amendola’s neck like an albatross due to the media fabrication.   True, Welker is durable, about that there is no doubt.   Dude takes vicious hits and pops right back up.  Crazy.  There will never be another Wes Welker.  But while it is true that Amendola has missed significant time the past couple of years, it is also true that he hasn’t been any more dinged up than Welker, just a victim of bad timing in that regard.

Both have suffered season ending injuries, Welker tore his ACL and MCL in the final game of the 2009 season, missing the teams’ loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round.  He had also missed two games earlier in the year with a knee injury – while Amendola suffered a dislocated elbow at the start of the 2010 season, and missed 15 games.  Last season, he suffered a dislocated clavicle, for which he missed just three games despite coming very close to the bone severing his aorta.

If my math is correct, that adds up to nearly an even draw, though Amendola’s injury history is more recent, which tends to bring more stigma to them.

Weak argument…next?

With Amendola being a lock to make the roster, there remains three – perhaps four – spots up for grabs, with any one of the contenders capable of helping Patriots’ fans forget all about Brandon Lloyd.  Draft Pick Aaron Dobson is a large quick target with incredible hands and body control.  Josh Boyce is a speedster that could become a change of pace guy and someone who could stretch the field, particularly in a 23 personnel alignment.

“Molasses” Mike Jenkins will compete for backup snaps behind Dobson, as will former Buffalo Bills wide out Donald Jones.  Julien Edelman will be in a fight to secure a roster spot behind Amendola.  There are a couple of more players in the mix for backup snaps, T.J. Moe comes to mind, but the fact is that there are capable young options to choose from, where last season there was – um – Deion Branch and Dante Stallworth…

…sure doesn’t sound like a downgraded roster to me, and when you stop to consider that these wide receivers are not even going to be Brady’s primary targets, you should begin to see that anyone who tells you that the Patriots are in dire straits with their receivers just don’t know what they’re talking about…

…Just like a junkie.