Branch returns, wants to retire a Patriot

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Branch returns, wants to retire a Patriot

FOXBORO -- Everything happens for a reason.
For Deion Branch, the reason he's still in New England is because he wants to be here.
That would explain why his personal space inside the Patriots locker room at Gillette Stadium has remained untouched each time he's been cut this season.
Branch re-signed with New England earlier this week, after Donte' Stallworth joined Julian Edelman on injured reserve. It marks the second time that Branch signed with the team this season, after being released in August, then again in mid-November.
He last played in Week 10, on Nov. 11, against the Buffalo Bills, and had four catches for 30 yards. it was the fifth straight game he had played while dealing with a hamstring injury. It's an injury that he took time to rehab over the last four weeks that he's been away from the team.
But his "return" to the Patriots this week wasn't necessarily earth-shattering news.
Branch stood in front of his locker after Thursday's practice, and it felt like Groundhog Day. Everyone had seen this scene before.
"All my guys just walked past my locker like nothing ever happened," said Branch with a smile on face. "So I didn't get any hugs or anything like that. Just another day, man."
It's as if the veteran receiver never left, either time he was released. Branch refused to come out and discuss details of his conversations with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, but it was clear that he would be returning at some point -- both times he was cut -- based on the simple fact that his personal belongings -- clothes, equipment, framed pictures -- all remained in his locker, which continued to don the nameplate, "Deion Branch 84" above it.
"It's part of the business," said Branch. "You understand certain things and this is what happens. But at the same time, you know what your goals are. I know it's important, the team knows it's important. We sit down every time with things like this, whether it's me or someone else. Coach Belichick and this organization is straightforward. He lets you know what's what."
But this type of "business" is tough to come by in a professional sports world that's surrounded by large contracts, personal desires, and cold-blooded roster moves.
Branch is an established NFL veteran. He doesn't have to put up with this.
Still, he does. He wants to. Everything happens for a reason, he says.
His reason is that he has everything he ever could want in New England. He stays because he wants to be here. And he's willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen.
"This is where I want to be," said Branch. "Someone else might be different. I can only speak for myself. This is where I want to be. This is where I want to retire. So that kind of makes things a lot easier.
"I'm stepping in as if I never left. I'm here to just do whatever they need me to do, whatever Tom Brady needs me to do on the offense, whatever my team needs me to do. That's my job, and that's what I'm going to do.
"I'm a very blessed individual," added Branch. "I'm very thankful."

Freeman, Coleman lift Falcons past Saints, 45-32

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Freeman, Coleman lift Falcons past Saints, 45-32

NEW ORLEANS - Devonta Freeman practically wore out the Superdome turf with one long gain after another, Tevin Coleman wouldn't be denied near the goal line and the New Orleans Saints hardly looked like the team that made an emotional homecoming nearly 10 years ago to the day.

Cheers turned to boos, and many fans filed out early.

Coleman rushed for three touchdowns, Matt Ryan passed for two TDs and Deion Jones returned an interception 90 yards for a score to help the Atlanta Falcons beat the winless New Orleans Saints 45-32 on Monday night.

"It was real fun. Everybody was doing their job and everybody was playing for each other," Coleman said. "Everything clicked, and we got it done. It's a real big win for us to beat this team here."

The game coincided with New Orleans' celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Saints' memorable return to the Superdome on Sept. 25, 2006, 13 months after Hurricane Katrina. But there would be no reprise of New Orleans' dominant and emotional 23-3 triumph over Atlanta a decade ago.

The Saints' depleted defense struggled to slow Freeman, who rushed for 152 yards and caught five passes for 55 yards. Coleman also was effective in the passing game out of the backfield, with three receptions for 47 yards to go with his 42 yards rushing.

"We have to stop the run better," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "They were over 200 yards in situations where you knew the run was coming, even at the end of the game."

Ryan finished with 240 yards passing for Atlanta (2-1), which did not turn the ball over and moved into sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

Drew Brees put up his usual big numbers - 376 yards and three TDs passing - and hit tight end Coby Fleener seven times for 109 yards and a TD. But Brees' tipped pass that resulted in Jones' TD return early in the fourth quarter gave the Falcons a 45-25 lead that proved too much for New Orleans to overcome.

Hayes knows he's a good player, wants to silence the critics

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Hayes knows he's a good player, wants to silence the critics

BOSTON, Mass. – There’s a long way to go toward a complete resurrection from last season’s misdeeds, but Jimmy Hayes made a nice little statement that he’s learned some lessons in Boston’s preseason debut. The Bruins lost the game, 3-2, in the shootout to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but Hayes scored one of the two goals for the Black and Gold as one of the few veterans in a very youthful lineup for Boston.

The Hayes goal was a nice give-and-go with Jake DeBrusk at the end of a nice transition play in the second period, and was the highlight of a night playing on the right wing with DeBrusk and center Austin Czarnik. The score and a team-high four shots on net for Hayes represent a good start for what he hopes is a gigantic rebound season after last year’s disappointment.

Clearly Hayes heard some of the unflattering chatter about him on sports talk radio and otherwise last season, and may even understand how his difficult season in his home city of Boston -- whether he actively expressed it to him or not -- might have been a factor in his buddy Jimmy Vesey ultimately choosing New York over Boston.

It appears the former Boston College standout is looking to change the conversation in Boston. 

“Yeah, sure am. I’ve got a lot to come out here and…[there were] a lot of comments about myself, but I know I’m a good player. I got to this level for a reason,” said Hayes, who dropped from 19 goals and 35 points with the Panthers to 13 goals, 29 points and a career-worst minus-12 for the Bruins last season.

“To be able to play at the NHL level and continue to play at that level on a consistent basis is what I expect out of myself. I do it for myself and our teammates, and to help our team win. I’ll continue moving forward.

“It’s funny being the old guy on the line. It’s nice to see those young guys and see how excited they are, and how excited I am to get back out there. That’s what I said to the guys, they still have the jitters and they still have them for the first preseason game. It shows that these guys want it and it’s been a lot of fun skating with those guys. They’ve got a lot of speed and to keep pushing the pace. Trying to keep up with them has been a lot of fun.”

There is still a long way to go for the 26-year-old winger, and his willingness to stick around the danger areas on Monday night was a welcomed one for a Bruins team that needs his 6-foot-6 body in front of the net. Hayes paid the price with stitches and a fat lip after taking a Dalton Prout high-stick to the mouth in front of the Columbus net that went uncalled on a Bruins PP at the end of the second period.

That’s all part of the big man’s game on the ice, however. It’s also the kind of battle and determined fight that Hayes will need to show much more consistently in his second season with the hometown Bruins if he’s truly looking to bounce-back from last year’s mediocre performance.