Deion Branch: New England Patriots WR Continues to Survive

Drew BonifantAnalyst IIAugust 28, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22:   Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots talks with teammate Deion Branch #84 on the field prior to their AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

In case you didn't hear, another one bit the dust yesterday.

Two, actually. Donte' Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney. Both key contributors to the storied 2007 New England Patriots offense, both looking for a fall rendezvous with quarterback Tom Brady. Instead, both were axed as the Patriots narrowed their roster to the 75-player requirement.

The names featured on the cut list are surprising, and they say plenty about the players. But they also say a lot about a name not included.

Somehow, some way, Deion Branch is still on this team.

Sure, the biggest round of cuts is yet to come, but Branch has already made it further than some projected. When the team signed Brandon Lloyd and acquired Gaffney and Stallworth to round out the position, it was felt that Branch's time had run out. He was just too old, too slow, too brittle to keep up with a Patriots offense that's still picking up steam.

But Branch has always had something that age can't take away. He knows his quarterback. When Brady sees something in the defense, he knows Branch sees it too. When Branch turns with his hands out, the ball is there. Brady will sling the ball when Branch isn't even looking, and yet it always seems to move the chains.

Obviously, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels value that chemistry. They must, because Stallworth, who's much faster, is gone. Gaffney, much better at creating space and getting open, is gone.

Branch is still here, and if you buy the reports (the same ones that had him getting chased down by Father Time), his stock is rising. He's on track to be the No. 3 receiver. After all, who's going to unseat him now? Julian Edelman? Jesse Holley? Jeremy Ebert?

Branch is still alive because he's been working his M.O., the trait that's defined him since he was drafted in 2002. When he has to perform, he meets the challenge. When he was the No. 1 receiver on New England's Super Bowl teams earlier in the last decade, he was a Super Bowl MVP—and could have been one twice.

Nobody's looking for him to be a Super Bowl MVP anymore, but to make this team, he was going to need to spend the preseason proving he deserves to. And he's succeeded.

While Anthony Gonzalez didn't make it to camp, Stallworth fell off and Gaffney got hurt, Branch, a frequent visitor to the injury report throughout his career, has stayed healthy. He's stayed on the field, and now he's staying on the roster.

Chemistry is big in New England, but it isn't everything. Branch may be on the same page as Brady, but if he can't cut it athletically, he'll be gone. Obviously, he can still cut it. He does just enough to survive.

The Patriots offense is loaded. It has the best slot receiver in the game, a deep threat and two franchise tight ends under long-term contracts. And still, there's a spot for Branch, the man who keeps pushing the expiration date.

One day after cutting time, that's as big a surprise as any.