Late-game preseason action fine with focused Branch

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Late-game preseason action fine with focused Branch

FOXBORO -- Deion Branch had never been here before.

It was the fourth quarter of a preseason game. Most of the Patriots' top offensive unit didn't even play. And here's Branch, on the field, waiting to return punts.

Branch had two punts kicked in his direction on Monday night -- both in the fourth quarter -- but he let them fly over his head inside the 10-yard line.

Still, the fact that he was out there that late in such a meaningless game was new to him. He said afterwards that he knew it was coming.

"It wasn't strange," said Branch. "We spoke about it before the game."

Belichick had previously told Branch that he was going to get him the extra playing time on Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a way to make up for him missing the team's preseason opener. But it was also a sign of what the Patriots have on their roster, which is, a plethora of wide receivers.

Even without Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots still have receivers battling for roster spots. And with the numbers New England presents at the position, the veteran Branch isn't necessarily guaranteed anything.

Still, even having to play in the fourth quarter of a preseason game, some veterans would see that as a sign of disrespect. Not Branch. He knows the deal in New England.

"I'm just controlling my job to come here and play ball, and help the team," said Branch after New England's 27-17 loss to the Eagles.

"Every year there's competition. You know, every year. It doesn't change."

Branch finished the game with three receptions for a team-high 51 yards. Afterwards, he was saying all the right things. But perhaps, that state of mind is exactly why he shouldn't be worried.

"I feel good about my situation, as far as everybody's role," said Branch. "Nobody has a role right now. Nobody's made the team.

"Right now, it's just all about me going out, doing what I have to do to make the team."

Poll ranks Patriots as NFL's most 'badass' team

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Poll ranks Patriots as NFL's most 'badass' team

Five-time Super Bowl champions. Seven-time AFC champs. Fourteen-time AFC East champs. Now, Bill Belichick's Patriots have another title.

NFL's most "badass" team.

The Tampa Bay Times polled a panel of 43 NFL writers and asked them for the top three most "badass" teams and players in the NFL.

MORE PATRIOTS

The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots came out on top with 29 top-three votes. 

Here's a sampling of the panelists' comments:

"They keep winning in a league designed to discourage dynasties." -Terez A. Paylor, Kansas City Star

"Hands down. They take a three-touchdown lead and keep throwing, and throwing, and don't give a damn what anybody thinks." -Tyler Dunne, Bleacher Report

"For a decade they've been toying with and laughing at the rest of the league. The biggest bullies on the block." — Ralph Vacchiano, SNY

"Behind the glitz and glamour of having the game's greatest quarterback, the Patriots ranked among the league's top 10 scoring defenses each of the past five seasons, including No. 1 in 2016." — Ryan Wood, Green Bay Press-Gazette

The most badass player? Veteran Steelers linebacker James Harrison. The highest-ranked Patriot on the list? Tom Brady at No. 6. Rob Gronkowski was tied with Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack at No. 8. Julian Edelman was among the others receiving votes. 

Here are the full rankings: 

MOST BADASS TEAM 

1. Patriots (29 votes)

2. Seahawks (27)

3. Steelers (18)

4. Raiders (9)

5. Ravens (8)

6t. Broncos (6)

6t. Cowboys (6)

8. Bengals (4)

9t. Cardinals (2)

9t. Packers (2)

9t. Panthers (2)

9t. Texans (2)

Also receiving votes: Chiefs, Falcons, Rams, Titans (1 each)

MOST BADASS PLAYER

1. James Harrison, Steelers LB (14 votes)

2t. Marshawn Lynch, Raiders RB (10)

2t. J.J. Watt, Texans DE (10)

4t. Kam Chancellor, Seahawks S (8)

4t. Ndamukong Suh, Dolphins DT (8)

6. Tom Brady, Patriots QB (7)

7. Von Miller, Broncos LB (6)

8t. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots TE (5)

8t. Khalil Mack, Raiders LB (5)

10. Aaron Donald, Rams DT (4)