BOSTON (CBS) — Danny Amendola will be back to running routes on the Gillette Stadium turf Sunday afternoon.

It’s just a darn shame he won’t be doing it in a Patriots uniform. One of Tom Brady’s most reliable targets in some of the biggest games over the last five years, the man who earned the nickname Danny “Playoff” Amendola (or “Deathwish Danny” on occasion), will instead be hauling in passes for the Miami Dolphins when he returns to Foxboro.

Amendola’s Dolphins own a 3-0 record and sit two games ahead of the 1-2 Patriots in the AFC East as the season approaches its quarter mark. Sunday’s showdown is a rare early season divisional matchup that borders on must-win territory for New England. Sprinkle in Amendola’s return, and it has a whole lot of juice for a Week 4 matchup.

Amendola was the consummate pro during his five seasons in New England. He played hurt. He restructured his contract. He made big catch after big catch in gigantic situations. Because of that, there will be a lot of pre- and post-game love between Amendola and his old teammates. In between, they’ll try to annihilate each other.

But if Amendola is bitter about New England’s reluctance to bring him back during the offseason, he isn’t showing it as he prepares to face his former team.

“They have a lot of great people there,” Amendola told reporters in Miami. “I can’t sit down and talk to all of them. I’m going to just focus on the game, and whoever I get to hit or handshake, that’s fine with me.”

His impact was not just on the field in key spots, but also in New England locker room.

“I’m always excited to see Danny. Miss that guy. He’s fun,” Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said earlier this week. “He’s quick, he’s feisty. Definitely miss that guy but he’s doing what he’s got to do and it’s going to be good to see him.”

Miami inked Amendola to a two-year, $12-million contract over the offseason, a price the Patriots weren’t willing to match. While Amendola isn’t putting up monster numbers like fellow departed Patriots wideout Brandin Cooks, who has 26 catches for 348 yards and two touchdowns for the L.A. Rams (Pats receivers have 24 receptions — combined), he leads Miami with 11 catches. He continues to command attention with his routes over the middle, opening things up for Ryan Tannehill’s other weapons: Kenny Stills and Jakeem Grant. Tannehill has benefited greatly from having a veteran like Amendola, completing 73 percent of his passes while throwing just two interceptions. He applauds the 5-foot-11 Amendola for the punishing hits he takes over the middle week in and week out.

“It’s huge,” Tannehill said. “To have the confidence and the bravery — I don’t know the politically correct word to use here — to stand in there and make those catches in tight windows, knowing that you’re going to take some punishment afterward, is huge. Some guys can’t do it, but if you look at Danny, he’s a guy who has done it for his whole career and continues to do it. It’s awesome to have. It definitely keeps the chains moving for us.”

Amendola hasn’t been a sure-thing on third down like he was in New England, turning just one of his four third-down targets into a fresh set of downs for Miami. But the Patriots haven’t been able to replace his propensity to move the chains on third down, converting just 10 of their 35 chances. That 28.6 conversion percentage ranks 29th in the NFL, and is better than just the Buffalo Bills’ 26.2 percent in the AFC.

That is one of the big reasons why the New England offense has struggled to start the season, and the Patriots find themselves just 1-2. But Amendola, like many, isn’t ready to count the Patriots out just yet.

“It’s early in the season,” he said. “Everybody in the whole league is trying to figure some things out and trying to get moving, including us.”

Tune in to the game between the Patriots and Dolphins on WBZ-TV on Sunday at 1 p.m., and get your day started on WBZ-TV with Patriots GameDay 11:30 a.m. Once the game ends, tune in to Patriots 5th Quarter on MyTV38 for postgame press conferences, reaction and analysis!

 

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