Branch returns, wants to retire a Patriot

896971.jpg

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."

Steelers descending into disarray?

Steelers descending into disarray?

Less than 48 hours removed from openly wondering if the AFC Championship Game stage was “too big” for some of his young teammates, Ben Roethlisberger has decided to play the latter-day Hamlet/Brett Favre game.

Speaking on Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan on Tuesday, Roethlisberger hinted at retirement.

“I’m going to take this offseason to evaluate, to consider all options,” Roethlisberger said. “To consider health, and family and things like that and just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season, if there’s going to be a next season. All those things. I think at this point in my career, at my age, that’s the prudent and smart thing to do every year.”

The soon-to-be-35-year-old Roethlisberger is a likely Hall of Famer who’s still arguably one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL. But for whatever reason, he’s got an insatiable need for people to register concern about his status. Whether it be limping around the field, lamenting injuries or this, few quarterbacks in the league go through the same histrionics Roethlisberger does in order to get those, “Attaboy, Ben!” backslaps.

I remember being at Steelers training camp in 2009 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and having veteran Steelers writers roll their eyes as Roethlisberger started hopping around like he was on hot coals after a throw. The quarterback having an owie act was a daily tradition.

Roethlisberger’s also got a passive aggressive side in which he’ll deftly twist the knife on coaches and teammates but leave himself enough room for plausible deniability.

In addition to openly wondering if his young teammates took the AFC Championship Game seriously enough, Roethlisberger gave the “just running the plays as I’m told” answer when asked about the Steelers resistance to running a quarterback sneak when they were at the Patriots goal line before halftime. Roethlisberger could have taken offensive coordinator Todd Haley off the hook there – he’s lobbied for Haley to get a head coaching shot after the two had a bad relationship when Haley arrived. But he opted not to.

Similarly, earlier this year, Roethlisberger’s critiques of the way head coach Mike Tomlin was running the team were aired. 

So, this could be part of a Roethlisberger power play aimed at the Steelers bowing to his wishes.

That wasn’t the only tidbit from Pittsburgh that looked bad for the AFC finalists. Linebacker Bud Dupree said the Steelers were surprised by the Patriots using an up-tempo offense earlier in the game. 

Do they not have electricity or internet access in the Steelers facility? Up-tempo is a staple part of the Patriots offensive diet. You can see it on the television or the internet through your smart phone.

While there’s no doubt that defensive coordinator Keith Butler – and defensive minded head coach Tomlin – were aware and talked about the Patriots going no-huddle, the fact Dupree (and his teammates) were unable to recall the preparation or adequately fall into an emergency plan to address it does fall on the coaches.

Need more? It’s also being leaked out of the building that Antonio Brown cares too much about his statistics. He made clear last week how much he cares about advancing his personal brand at the expense of Tomlin and the team with his Facebook Live video. 

If there’s an upside for anyone in all this, it would have to be Joey Porter. Nobody’s even talking about his off-field fracas anymore.

As this season ably demonstrated, the Patriots have plum run out of authentic rivals in the AFC. That the team they just pulverized is steamrolling into an offseason of dysfunction and uncertainty isn't good if you like parity. But it's terrific if you couldn't care less.