Branch, Holmes bring new dimension to rematch

191543.jpg

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

SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rawls leads Seahawks to 40-7 pummeling of Panthers

panthers_seahawks_thomas_rawls_120416.jpg

SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rawls leads Seahawks to 40-7 pummeling of Panthers

SEATTLE - Behind Thomas Rawls bouncing off and through tacklers and a big-play punch from Tyler Lockett, the Seattle Seahawks rediscovered their offensive star power on Sunday night.

It came at a significant cost to their defense.

Rawls ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, Lockett took a reverse 75 yards for a score to open the second half and the Seahawks routed the Carolina Panthers 40-7 on Sunday night.

Click here to read the complete story

Curran: Outcome expected, Patriots can still build off win vs. Rams

Curran: Outcome expected, Patriots can still build off win vs. Rams

FOXBORO – So they did precisely what they were supposed to do. Poleaxed a bad team that had come cross-country to get its whipping and then return home.

It’s hard to downgrade the Patriots for that. Not this time. Even though they were facing a rookie quarterback making his third NFL start in Jared Goff, even though the Rams were without wide receiver Tavon Austin, the net the Patriots threw over the Rams offense was so stifling that those qualifiers don’t count.

The Rams went 1-for-9 on third down. They were 0-for-8 before the late conversion. They didn’t get over 100 total yards until their final drive of the game and that required a breakdown by Malcolm Butler on Kenny Britt. Britt, the Rams best offensive player this season, hadn’t had a catch before that.

PATRIOTS 26, RAMS 10

So what if the Patriots used the Rams as their step stool to get to the next rung? So what if they were supposed to do exactly that? They’d had other matchups this season when they hadn’t choked out lesser opponents. This time they did.

And some of the players who figured prominently are precisely some of the players who’ve had their struggles.

Jabaal Sheard, benched two weeks ago, forced a pick and three passes defensed. Logan Ryan, who’s seen his role change and playing time dwindle, had a sack on a corner blitz and had two quarterback hits to go with five tackles. Kyle Van Noy, still fitting into the defense, had a pick, a pass defensed and four tackles. Alan Branch, who hasn’t struggled but had an NFL suspension hanging over his head until the league rescinded it Saturday, was his normal nuisance up front. Chris Long and Shea McClellin, both new to the team this year, had sacks.

“That happens around here,” explained Dont'a Hightower. “The next-man-up mentality has been here for a few years. Guys don’t play early then later in the season, they get right whatever it was that wasn’t right and they come back and we play well. It’s about us playing together.”

Hightower has steadily proclaimed that the defense has the talent and self-belief necessary to get where it needs to be on a consistent basis.  

“I feel like every week should be like this regardless of who we’re playing,” he said. “We had a great week of practice. Everyone was all in the same mindset, the same focus. (Defensive coordinator Matty Patricia) again did a great job of calling the game, mixing it up. We just went out there and executed.”

As the Patriots head into the final four games of their schedule, the caliber of their competition will rise. The next opponent, Baltimore, has won four of five including a 38-6 demolition of the Dolphins on Sunday.

The Broncos are up after the Ravens and that game will be in Denver, never an easy spot for the Patriots to say the least.

The Patriots close at home with the always-annoying Jets and then have to go to South Florida to play Miami in the New Year’s Day finale.  

“We’re just one week at a time,” said Ryan. “You can’t break this season off a couple weeks. Next week, we see what Baltimore [Ravens] just did, they’re a real good team. We know how that’s been in the past so it should be a nice game, a competitive game, competitive atmosphere. We’re just one week at a time, we’re happy we got this game and we’re on to the next one.”

It’s hard to point to this game and say, “All’s fixed.”

It was the outcome expected and there was no letdown. Part of the process.

“It’s December, time to play our best football,” said Devin McCourty. "We’ve been at it for a while now dating back to the beginning of training camp. Things we’ve talked about working on and things we’ve talked about improving, it’s time to start improving on those things and getting them done. Bill [Belichick] said it over and over that who we play each week is not going to matter if we don’t come and fix the things we need to fix and play the way we need to play. I think the whole team understands that and it starts with him, but [also] us echoing it as captains and as leaders. Today I think showed that when we do those things, we go out there and play well.”

The principals in this win – players like Sheard and Ryan – signaled that concerns over buy-in and locker room fissures appearing after playing time was shifted and personnel was shipped out were probably unfounded.

It’s a tough place to play because performance matters and there’s not a lot of, “That’s ok, you’ll get ‘em next time…” with this coaching staff.

It’s mentally challenging.

“That might be an understatement,” laughed Hightower. “But that’s part of the process, that’s part of the Patriot way and we try to adapt to it.”