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.
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