Minneapolis — This is the scene from Super Bowls past:
Tom Brady is in trouble. The last minute and its precious seconds are vanishing. Brady is scrambling, dodging right and back to his left. At last, in what seems to be cool desperation, he flings the football.
Downfield Wes Welker, skittering through the enemy secondary on an uncharted course, grabs the football. First down. The late drive to victory continues.
But in the flashback, the image of Welker turns into Julian Edelman making a scooping grab; and then it turns into Danny Amendola leaping and snatching the football away from some larger defensive back.
All the same. Or so it seems in the only sports dynasty of the 21st century.
Consistency with occasional necessary modifications is the Patriots' system for winning championships.
Welker, Edelman and Amendola have been Brady's rescue receivers through the years.
On the field, during the games, they look the same, play the same, appear in the same role. They emerged the same in the NFL — obscure, smallish roustabouts with little in the scouting reports to recommend them.
"Wes had to have a long journey to get to being, ultimately, a revolutionary player who basically created a position," Edelman said about Welker last August in training camp in an article on the MassLive website.
There is a certain kinship, for Brady was unwanted and overlooked when he finished his college carer at Michigan. He was tearful on draft day, taken as an afterthought in the sixth round in 2000.
Now,at age 40, Brady is capping his 18th season with the Patriots. He is the constant.
Not so with the rescue receivers. Amendola, Edelman and Welker are different athletes, but they seem the same.
Quick, sly, smallish, feisty, playing the same style with the same maneuvers, like robots.
"We try not to be like robots," Danny Amendola told me the other day, then grinning, "but we are."
The rescue receivers have not been Brady's favorite targets through the Super Bowl years.
"They're one of our strengths," Brady said at a press session in the prelude to Sunday's Super Bowl LII. "All of those players are very (sic) unique. Welker, when he was here, was very unique. Julian was and this season Danny."
There is no doubt Brady prefers to seek out Rob Gronkowski, the huge, charismatic tight end, who was cleared to play in Sunday's Super Bowl LII via the concussion protocol.
Deion Branch, Troy Brown and Randy Moss were Brady's coveted receivers in past Super Bowl years.
Bill Belichick — the coach since 2000, another constant — artfully developed this rescue system with the replaceable wide receivers. The system has been vital in the Patriots' five victories in their seven Super Bowls in this century.
"They play the same position," Belichick said of the cloning Welker/Edelman/Amendola, as if he were divulging a precious secret.
Wes Welker was first. Smallish a 5-feet-9, he was undrafted. The Chargers signed him and dumped him. He migrated to the Dolphins, who honed him. He migrated to the Patriots in 2007, the season the Patriots were aiming for perfection and were upset by the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
In that weird loss, Welker caught 11 passes, a Super Bowl record.
Again vs. the Giants, in defeat, in Super Bowl XLVI, Welker caught seven passes.
But indeed — as a I recall — there was a dropped pass in the fourth quarter that might have cost the Patriots a victory.
According to SB Nation, Welker and Edelman engaged in a friendly banter. Welker had left the Patriots in a contract dispute and signed with the Broncos.
"I was before you," jabbed Welker to Edelman according to the story.
"Yeah, but the only difference is that I made the catch in the Super Bowl and you didn't," Edelman reportedly countered.
Edelman was a smallish, seventh round NFL draftee, when he joined the Patriots in 2009. He would make two sensational historic catches in Super Bowls.
In Super Bowl XLIX, Edelman made a superb catch down the sideline for the go-ahead touchdown on Brady's drive against the clock. The TD put the Pats' up 28-24 over the Seahawks. The score would hold up as the winner when Pete Carroll, the Seattle coach, controversially erred in not using Marshawn Lynch to plow forward in short sight of the goal line.
Still, Edelman's gem was his scooping catch in the classic Super Bowl LI last year as the Patriots drove to cancel the Falcons' 25-point lead. The pass was tipped, ricocheted off Falcons cornerback Robert Alford's leg. Among groping defenders, Edelman caught the ball a smidgen above the ground.
It was ruled a legitimate catch upon review. It rescued the Patriots from defeat. They tied the game at the end of regulation and won it, 34-28, in overtime.
NFL Films, an absolute authority on pro football, call Edelman's catch "the greatest catch in Super Bowl history."
This current season the rescue receiver role passed on to Amendola. Edelman became an injury casualty in training camp and missed the entire season.
Amendola had been passed over by all 30 NFL franchises in 2008, just as Welker had been.
The Cowboys gave Amendola a shot, then the Eagles did. Both let him languish on their practice squads. Finally, the St. Louis Rams signed and played him. Amendola played four seasons with the Rams.
Then as a free agent, he signed with the Patriots in 2013 as a roster replacement for the departing Welker.
And this season, with Edelman out, Amendola became the rescue receiver.
He was the star of the AFC championship victory, another late comeback for Brady, against the Jaguars. In the fourth quarter, he caught two touchdown passes, seven for the game. On one catch he dove, held the ball and rolled over twice.
Welker/Edelman/Amendola — three small guys who flit in the same manner — clones, robots.
Jerry Green, a retired sports writer, has covered every Super Bowl for The Detroit News.