Branch focused on task at hand


Branch focused on task at hand

FOXBORO -- Not one player in the Patriots locker room wants to waste time on the past. They will watch film of old games as they must, to understand the future. But talking about playoff games already won is as unappealing as talking about those lost. Ravens in 2009 ring a bell? The Patriots want to take that bell and make you eat it -- gently -- if only to make the words stop.
Experience in the NFL is invaluable. As each milestone of a season is reached, whether as routine as a bye week or as all-encompassing as an AFC Championship game, Patriots veterans are always asked how they advise newcomers. What's the message? What wisdom can they impart to those who've not been there before? What guidance do they give?
It's a logical expectation -- that those sage warriors should look down to their battle scars and explain each to their peers. It's just not always helpful.
"You can tell with how the playoffs have been going so far... not the most experienced teams are in," Deion Branch said Wednesday. "That pretty much shows you right there that the experience, okay, yeah, some of that stuff, to a point, is key. But once the game starts it's all about playing the game. Executing the plays. Getting out there, running your stuff."
Branch is a 10-year NFL veteran. He spent his first four seasons in New England, worked for four-and-a-quarter in Seattle, then returned. He is beloved for his connection with Tom Brady during Patriots glory days, for being the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXIX.
But ask Branch to wax about AFC Championship memories and the guy shrugs.
"I can't talk about it, I haven't been in it for so long," he smiled. "The feeling... it's a great feeling once you attain it, but there's nothing I can talk about. I haven't done it in so long. Hopefully we can regain. It's a great feeling."
Part of the brevity is "The Patriot Way." There are hundreds, upon thousands of things the players exchange -- trite as where to get a good steak -- that rightfully stay sacred behind Gillette's innermost walls. Not because it's not for Us but because it is for Them. Imagine Branch refusing a rookie on how to keep the nerves in check next weekend? Impossible.
But that's the other part. Branch wasn't simply withholding -- there just really are some things you can't teach.
"The biggest thing is just making sure we're going out there, executing our game plan. It's not about the magnitude of the game. It's about our focus on the game plan. That's the entire thing."
Not much deviation from the regular season, there. If the Patriots who haven't been to a conference championship don't understand that objective by now, there's probably not much Branch, or any other vet, could do to help anyway.

Freeman, Coleman lift Falcons past Saints, 45-32


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


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.