FOXBORO - Sunday night, a writer from Philadelphia asked Deion Branch if he looked across the line of scrimmage at the Eagles and thought back to his brilliant performance in the 2004 Super Bowl against those Eagles. Beyond the fact it's almost seven years in Branch's rearview, when one considers all the things Branch has seen and done since, you can appreciate why Branch simply laughed. "That's a loooong time ago," Branch answered. "Long time. I can barely ever remember that. It's been a minuteThe 32-year-old has been in the league for 10 seasons and is on the third and final act of his career. And this final act has been a stirring one. On Sunday, Branch had 6 catches for 125 yards. So far this year, he's got 45 catches for 428 yards and 4 touchdowns. Over the next five games, he could approach his best single-season as a Patriot. In 2005 Branch had 78 catches, 998 yards and 4 scores.He does things on the field with Tom Brady that make it seem like they share a cerebellum. The broken play, 63-yarder in the first half Sunday was an instance of that. "You have two smart guys, both very instinctive players," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick explained Monday when asked how Brady and Branch are able to communicate so well. "If something comes up that you haven't done or talked about before . . . what they would do would probably most of the time be what you want them to do. So that puts them pretty much on the same page to begin with. Add in the experience and reps that they've had together . . . I'm sure that's added to it and doing it on the field in live game situations adds to it."Belichick spent time Monday talking about hownaturally gifted Branch and Brady arein the passing game. "Deion's a very instinctive receiver," Belichick noted. "He has a great sense of timing of when the quarterback isready to throw the ball, when he needs to be open, when to get open and Tom, from his position, has that same sense of what the receiver should do in certain situations. And that's almost always what Deion would do."Off the field, Branch is unique as well. He brings no wariness to his dealings with the media, no condescension, nothing adversarial. He is, in short, a pro. "Great to have on the team," Belichick said of Branch. "Always got a smile on his face. Alert, attentive. Likes to practice, likes to work. Adds a lot to the team environment . . . Great leader, great example for all of us because of the way he goes about his job and how professional he is. He's always got a lot of energy."He may have energy, butafter the aforementioned 2005 season, he lost patience. Irritated that his contract hadn't been reworked and witha year left on it, Branch held out on thePattriots. Ultimately, Branch was dealt to Seattle where he made close to 40 million but didn'trealize anywhere close to the same success on the field. The Patriots, who had no receiving answer to replace Branch in 2006, paid more dearly for being unable to work a deal than Branch did. They blew a very realistic chance at a fourth Super Bowl in five seasons, choosing not to pay Branch while making Brady spend the season throwing to Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel and Benjamin Watson. But by last season, the contract issues had been all but forgotten. "I never had a problem with Deion on the field," Belichick said. "Never had a football-related problem with Deion. He's always been great to coach. Contracts are contracts. But as far as football, as a player-coach relationship it's always been good with him. Never been a problemHe came back right after the Patriots dealt Randy Moss last October. Now, in 22 games with the Patriots since returning, Branch has 93 catches, 1,446 yards and 9 scores. He's neither as fast or quick as he once was. Crafty would be the word to best describeBranch now. And trusted. Unlike the other 30-plus guy the Patriots brought aboard this preseason to whom they're paying much more than they are to Branch . For a guy who always knows how to find the right spot, Deion Branch is currently in a good spot.
FOXBORO -- The highly-anticipated first Patriots injury report of the week was released on Wednesday afternoon, and it was fairly predictable.
Both injured quarterbacks were active but limited in their practice participation, the report indicated. That comes as little surprise as both Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder) and Jacoby Brissett (thumb) were spotted throwing passes early in Wednesday's practice. Neither appeared to be experiencing any significant discomfort as they made their warm-up throws.
Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower (knee) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (hamstring) were also limited. Gronkowski admitted that the team was taking it slow with him in his first game back on the field last week -- he played just 14 snaps in New England's win over Houston -- but he said on Wednesday that he hoped to go "freakin' crazy" on the field soon.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
QB Jacoby Brissett (right thumb)
OT Marcus Cannon (calf)
G Jonathan Cooper (foot)
LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder)
TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring)
LB Dont'a Hightower (knee)
CB Eric Rowe (ankle)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE
TE Charles Clay (knee)
OL Cyrus Kouandjio (ankle)
OL Patrick Lewis (knee)
WR Sammy Watkins (foot)
DB Colt Anderson (foot)
DB Ronald Darby (hamstring)
QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder)
DB Jonathan Meeks (foot)
WR Greg Salas (groin)
DB Aaron Williams (ankle)
OL Cordy Glenn (ankle)
FOXBORO -- Jimmy Garoppolo spoke Wednesday for the first time since getting his shoulder separated by the Dolphins’ Kiko Alonso. Standing by his locker, Garoppolo was predictably vague about the status of his arm, unless you consider, “Getting better day by day,” as being insightful.
The only two responses offered that were worth a damn came when asked if he could have done anything different when he got squished by Alonso while retreating and buying time.
“Just have to be smart I guess,” said Garoppolo. “I mean, it’s football and stuff’s gonna happen like that, but have to be smart in those situations.”
Asked if he regretted holding the ball as long as he did on a third-down play with the Patriots up 21-0, Garoppolo replied, “After it’s all said and done it’s easy to say that, but it’s one of those things, you’re in the heat of the game. But bottom line I have to be smarter than that.”
Meanwhile, as he worked last week to get back for Thursday night’s game against Houston, The Boston Herald reported that the Patriots were “putting pressure” on Garoppolo to be ready for the game. Working hard to get key players ready for upcoming games is standard operating procedure for a medical staff. Trying to force a player to perform is not.
I asked Garoppolo if he felt unduly pressured. He replied, “No.”