Branch embracing limited role with bigger goal in mind


Branch embracing limited role with bigger goal in mind

FOXBORO -- Deion Branch could be somewhere else. He didn't necessarily have to be standing behind a podium at Gillette Stadium.

But he was. Because he chose to.

Branch was "released" twice. Once before the regular season began, and again in November. Both times, the personal belongings in his locker and the nameplate above it remained untouched.

Both times, he knew he'd be back.

But he had other options. Had he taken those options and not accepted his limited role to be part of a contender, he wouldn't be answering questions about Sunday's AFC Championship against the Baltimore Ravens, on Friday.

As a veteran who wants another championship, Branch is now the poster boy for unselfishness.

"That's the thing about this team," said Branch on Friday. "We've got a bunch of guys who are unselfish. And that's what's important. I think we put the team first, in everything that we do. And that's just something that creates success upon a team. We've got a bunch of guys who probably can leave here and start elsewhere. But I think most of all, this is where guys want to be. They enjoy it. They enjoy playing here. They enjoy being in the locker room. We take the coaching that coach Belichick gives us, and we put it out on the football field. I think the way that this team prepares before each and every game, is what separates us from every team."

Separating Branch from other players in the league is his willingness to be cut twice in a season, and remain patient. Not just with waiting to get the call back, but also with his limited role on the field.

Branch has only three catches since Week 16, and he hasn't seen the end zone once all season. But he's learning something new about himself every day.

"I didn't think I was this patient," said Branch. "Being a starter in the NFL for so long, and now, the role that I have, I didn't know if I could do it. And I see that I can because the goal is bigger than just me just wanting to be out on the field, starting every game and contributing. I want to do all those things. But at the same time, if coach needs me to go in on third down, then I just have to do my job. That's just one of the things that I've accepted. And I'm going to roll with whatever coach needs me to do."

Belichick needs him to be a leader. Because Branch has been there before. And he's trying to get back. A message that was evident on Friday, regardless of his role.

"It means a lot," said Branch. "This isn't our biggest goal though. Trust me. It's a blessing to be a part of this game, to have an opportunity to play in the AFC Championship. But the goal is bigger for this team."