Branch, Holmes bring new dimension to rematch

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Branch, Holmes bring new dimension to rematch

By Danny Picard
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- The last time the Patriots and Jets played, both Deion Branch and Santonio Holmes were among the missing. Neither of the Super Bowl MVPs were on the field when New York beat New England, 28-14, in Week 2.

Branch, of course, wasn't even a Patriot; he was with the Seattle Seahawks at the time. Holmes was serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

Eleven weeks later, Branch is back with the team that he won Super Bowls with in 2003 and 2004 (and earned himself a Super Bowl MVP trophy in 2004 in the process). And Holmes, who earned his hardware as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is playing again after serving his suspension.

Both add a new dynamic to their current rosters, different from what each defense saw in Week 2.

Patriots fans know what Branch brings to the table. His return to New England's offense has re-united him with Tom Brady and has, in a sense, rejuvenated his career. Since the bye-week trade that brought him back to the Pats, Branch has made 33 catches for 433 yards and three touchdowns in seven games.

Holmes, acquired in the offseason from Pittsburgh, has played seven games for the Jets this season. He has 32 receptions for 491 yards and four touchdowns.

The numbers between Branch and Holmes couldn't be more similar. Their skill sets are the same, too, says Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington.

"Explosiveness, making the Jets offense even that much more dynamic," said Arrington about what Holmes brings to New York's offense. "Because he's fast, he's quick, and he's good after the catch. He adds a lot of explosiveness to the offense."

Holmes adds a great deal to New York's passing game, if not for his skill set then for the fact that the Jets already had a top-notch wide receiver in Braylon Edwards the last time the two teams went at it.

Patriots players believe the two are different, similar to how Branch is different to Randy Moss, the down-field threat that Branch replaced earlier in the season, when Moss was traded to the Minnesota Vikings.

"You know Braylon, he's a taller guy," said Arrington. "He's more of a jump-ball kind of guy. He's definitely more of a target in the red area. Not that Santonio isn't, but like I said, they just use Edwards' height, and he'll jump and go get the ball.

"Santonio, he definitely stretches the field . . . Santonio, man, not only is he fast, he's quick, and like I said, he's good after the catch. He's also a Super Bowl MVP. He's not that for nothing."

Branch isn't a Super Bowl MVP for nothing, either.

"That whole situation with Randy Moss there kind ofsurprised me," said Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. "I would never think they would trade the type of caliberplayer Randy is, and what he brings to their offense. But they broughtDeion Branch in, and I think they did that because hes familiar with Tom Brady andtheir offense. I mean, the guy was a Super Bowl MVP, so hes comfortable in thesystem he knows.

"Their receiving corps is still good," added Revis. "They still got WesWelker. They got Deion to come in and fit right in. And they got Brandon Tate, aswell. And they got two good tight ends that can catch the ball and rungood routes."

Branch and Holmes will play Monday night at Gillette Stadium. Neither were available in Week 2. Their impact on the divisional race will be on display, in a similar fashion.

Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comdannypicard

Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

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Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will head into Sunday's AFC title game with seven players listed as questionable, including three receivers. 

Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan have all been limited in practices this week due to their injuries. Amendola has been dealing with an ankle issue since a Week 13 win over the Rams, while Mitchell has not played since injuring his knee in Week 16 against the Jets. Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans and left the game in the third quarter.

Both Hogan and Mitchell indicated this week that they were moving in the right direction in terms of their recoveries. One would think that the Patriots would need at least one, if not both, to help stress the back end of the Steelers secondary this weekend.

Hogan has been the team's most consistent down-the-field threat this season, averaging a whopping 17.9 yards per catch during the regular season. Against the Texans, before his injury, he reeled in four passes for 95 yards. 

Mitchell, meanwhile, had a very productive second half of his rookie season before he was hurt. He compiled 25 catches for 306 yards between Weeks 11 and 16, establishing himself as one of Tom Brady's go-to targets. 

The overall health of the Patriots receiving corps -- which will also include Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd -- will bear watching when the Patriots and Steelers kick off in two days.

The injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
DL Jabaal Sheard (knee)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

QUESTIONABLE
TE Ladarius Green (concussion/illness)
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)

NOT LISTED
RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related)
K Chris Boswell (illness)
LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle)
S Sean Davis (shoulder)
C B.J. Finney (illness)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bay (illness)
DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
QB Zach Mettenberger (illness)
S Michael Mitchell (not injury related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)
LB Vince Williams (shoulder)