FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — There have been plenty of changes in the New England Patriots offense since Deion Branch’s first stint ended after the 2005 season.
He’s still learning, but in two games after returning in a trade, he has as many catches as he had in four with the Seattle Seahawks. Not that it matters to him.
“If the coach needs me to catch 10 balls to win, that’ll be cool,” Branch said Thursday. “If I need to catch two to win, that’s cool, too. I think the biggest thing is just worrying about the win.”
So forget about comparing Branch to Randy Moss when Minnesota visits on Sunday. Moss’ trade to the Vikings on Oct. 6 created a need for a reliable, experienced wide receiver that Branch filled when he was traded on Oct. 12.
But he’s not worried about any contrast. And he’s not concerned about the reception Moss will receive from Patriots fans, either.
“I don’t know how that’s going to pan out,” Branch said. “Am I excited to see it? No. I just want to go out and do my job and, hopefully, we win this game.”
Moss’ departure left the Patriots without a deep threat who could open up things underneath for receivers like Wes Welker. Branch is fast, but is more of a possession receiver.
Still, he wouldn’t mind running under some long passes from Tom Brady.
“We all would as receivers, but everything has to work,” Branch said. “Once you get in the flow — the front line doing their job, Tom doing his job and also the receivers doing theirs — so it may take time. It may be game by game. We’re going to take what they give us.”
Branch has 13 catches with the Patriots. He had nine in his first game, a 23-20 overtime win over Baltimore in which he scored a touchdown. That single-game total matched Moss’ total in his four games with New England. Last Sunday, Branch caught four passes in a 23-20 win at the San Diego Chargers. But Brady threw for just 159 yards.
“I think it was more what we were doing wrong,” Branch said, as opposed to what the Chargers defense was doing right.
“The last thing we try to focus on is what other teams are doing. If we focus on what we’re doing, I think we’ll be OK, and I think we didn’t have a lot of good things on the field last week. We came out at halftime, had a great drive. We made a couple of positive plays later on in the game. But early on, it wasn’t good.”
Even though Moss is gone, the Patriots say their offense hasn’t changed.
“We threw one deep (to Branch) the (third) play of the game and they were back there pretty deep defending it,” Brady said. “You’re always trying to spread the field vertically and horizontally. You can’t make it a 20-yard field. You have to make them defend the whole field from sideline to sideline and end zone to end zone.
“They’re much more conscious of it when you’re hitting those plays, I can tell you that. Those long balls, they feel good when they stop those. We’ve got to hit those plays.”
Vikings coach Brad Childress has noticed some things the Patriots are doing differently with Branch.
“But, typically, their scheme is the scheme they employ from week-to-week,” he said, “both when Randy was playing, and also when Deion is playing. I would think that it’s just a matter of Deion getting comfortable with how the scheme has evolved in the time that he left and came back.”
When Branch left, he was just a four-year veteran. Now, he’s been in the NFL eight years, the most of any Patriots receiver. He is, as a result, something of a go-to guy for advice.
“It’s great, especially when the young guys still ask me questions about certain things when I’m still learning,” he said with a laugh.
Branch is feeling more comfortable with the offense as time goes on but wouldn’t say if he fits better in New England’s offense than Seattle’s.
“Everything is based off opportunities,” he said. “You don’t get the opportunity to do certain things, you’ll never be able to do anything. But I think over here, they do a great job of scheming, putting guys in a certain position to make the plays. I’m not saying they didn’t do it in Seattle, but … the offense is totally different.”