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Patriots' must keep 'uncoverable' Danny Amendola healthy

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For all the talk about how New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is taking too many hits, the same discussion could be centered around invaluable wide receiver Danny Amendola. Can he sustain at this level of playing time?

Amendola played 55 offensive snaps in last Thursday’s win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coming up with some clutch plays that showed how he is arguably No. 1 on Brady’s list of trusted receivers.

Amendola hadn’t played that many offensive snaps in a game since Dec. 6, 2015, in a 35-28 loss to the Eagles. Last season, when he was No. 4 on depth chart, the closest he came to that total was when he played 42 snaps against the 49ers on Nov. 20.

The way things have unfolded this year -- with a season-ending knee injury to Julian Edelman, and then Malcolm Mitchell’s troublesome knee landing him on injured reserve -- it has thrust the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Amendola into more of a frontline role. He’s the No. 3 receiver and top punt returner, having totaled 23 catches for 267 yards, with one touchdown, to go along with six punt returns for 112 yards (18.7 average).

It’s hard to imagine where the Patriots would be without him. On Wednesday, Brady called him "uncoverable."

Keeping the 31-year-old Amendola healthy has led the team to manage his workload in the past -- he’s already missed a game with a concussion and knee injury this year -- but the club might not have that luxury in 2017.

In four games, Amendola has already played 154 of 289 offensive snaps (53.2 percent) and absorbed some crunching hits in the process. It took him eight games to reach 154 snaps last year.

“He’s had such a great year,” Brady said. “I can’t say enough good things about everything he’s meant to our offense.”