Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Amendola-Jones Redemption

Defensive tackle Chris Jones blocked this last-second potential game-winning field goal attempt.
Chris Jones has come full circle.

Almost a year ago to the day, the then-rookie defensive tackle was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty midway through the overtime period of the New York Jets' wild 30-27 victory over the New England Patriots - Jets' kicker Nick Folk's miss on a 56 yard field goal attempt nullified when Jones was flagged for shoving fellow Patriot Will Svitek into the Jets' offensive formation - a no-no that had just become so.

During the league meetings in Phoenix the previous February, the owners and rule committee had adopted what eventually became known as Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 (b), which states as a matter of player safety, "Team B (kick defense) can not push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation" - and wouldn't you know it?  Jones became the first player ever flagged under that rule.

The 15 yard penalty moved the Jets well into Folk's range, and he nailed a 43 yard field goal to win the game three plays later.

"It just slipped my mind." said a distraught Jones after the fact to a gaggle of beat writers pecking around his locker in the bowels of MetLife Stadium. "It was my mistake and no one else's.  I've got to man-up and fix it next time."

And the "next time" was at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night, and fix it he did.

Jones blocked a potential game-winning 58 yard field goal attempt by Folk as time expired to preserve a whisker-thin 27-25 win that propelled the Patriots to an AFC East leading record of 5-2 and dropped the Jets almost completely out of the picture in the division race at 1-6.

But if it weren't for much-maligned receiver Danny Amendola's 2015 breaking out party, Jones would never have had his opportunity for redemption.
Amendola celebrates after catching a 4th quarter TD pass

Amendola was a difference maker in the Patriots' offense for the first time this season while also making his kick return gig debut, showing some of the explosion that has been missing from his game for over a year now, and returning kicks was just what the doctor ordered to get some forward momentum going.

"For me it was just trying to get involved in the game and just try to do an much as I can to create a spark and get involved in the offense," a typically demur Amendola said after the game. " It was fun."

There is little doubt that the game was fun for Amendola, particularly since it was his instincts and hustle that saved the Patriots' bacon - and suddenly, the whipping boy and for the Patriots' perceived passing game woes and his $4.5 million cap hit were back in the Foxborough folks' good graces.

"He was running full-speed through those holes," Tight end Rob Gronkowski offered after being told that Amendola had been a successful kick returner during his days as a St. Louis Ram, "He was doing a great job, so props to him."

Amendola returned four kicks for an average of just over 26 yards per, showing zero fear in running full throttle into the heart of the New York Jets' coverage unit, and then ran what Jets' coach Rex Ryan called the "Best route in football history" that gave the Patriots their winning points on a 19 yard hook up with Brady on 3rd and goal midway through the final quarter.

But the play of the night came about five minutes later when the Jets - who had just scored a touchdown but misfired on a two-point conversion to leave themselves two points behind New England with just over two minutes to play - attempted an onside kick.

Folk dribbled the ball perfectly toward the Patriots' sideline, where it took a mean bounce into the legs of receiver Brandon Lafell, and a mad scramble ensued.  The now-live ball skittered behind Lafell and with all of the Jets' kick coverage personnel converging on the spot, it appeared imminent that New York would recover the ball...

...that is until Amendola appeared in our TV screens, flying in from seemingly nowhere and jumped on the bounding pigskin, setting up the Patriots' offense in position to need just one first down in superb field position to ice the game.

That didn't happen, for reasons that will be discussed elsewhere, and the Jets got the ball back at their own 12-yard-line with a little over a minute remaining - and there was little doubt, given the manner in which New York had moved the ball all evening, that they would drive down the field to get into field goal position, but Jones was having none of that eerily similar scenario.

"I was just trying to get as deep and as high as I can." Jones said, "I think it was just coming down to will at the end."

Will, yes, and also the laws governing redemption.

"He stepped up and he made up for that last year's field goal" Linebacker Rob Ninkovich observed of Jones after the game. "He went out there, he played well, and he got the block.  It was a good way to end the ball game."

Actually, it was the best way to end that ball game.  Anything less that the efforts of Amendola and Jones, and Patriots' Nation would be lamenting a last-second loss instead of celebrating the rise of two players who finally received their just due.

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