In 2004-2005, the New England Patriots had a small, diminutive, sure-handed and workman-like receiving corps. They rode the talents of star QB Tom Brady and the unselfish, consistent play of his targets all the way to a victory in Super Bowl XXXIX.
With the re-acquisition of WR Deion Branch, the current Patriots are emulating the 2004 squad, no doubt hoping their season can end in a similar fashion.
Branch, the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX, returns to New England the same way he left in 2006—as one of Brady's favorite targets.
In nine games in 2004, Branch caught 35 passes from Brady and followed that up with 78 catches the following season. While he doesn't have the ability he did a few seasons ago, Branch no doubt eases the pain Brady has felt since the Patriots traded WR Randy Moss last week.
In Branch, Wes Welker, Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman and TEs Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, Brady has receivers that seem eerily similar to those he worked with six years ago.
David Patten, David Givens, Branch, Troy Brown and TEs Daniel Graham and Christian Fauria comprised one of the NFL's most effective, if largely anonymous, groups of receivers. Brady happily spread the wealth among them, as Givens led the team with an underwhelming 56 catches.
There appeared no primary or secondary target on a given play, as Brady seamlessly went through his progressions until he found his best option. He never threw forced a throw, never threw into double coverage and rarely missed an open receiver.
In 2010, the Pats possess receivers that can duplicate the roles of those from 2004.
Branch will play a part similar to the one he did back then, though he presumably won't run as many deep routes. Welker will play underneath, constantly getting open and always getting yards after the catch that seemingly aren't there. Edelman will prove a reliable, sure-handed and versatile target, not unlike Brown was in 2004.
Tate, bigger and more physical than Branch and Welker, will stretch the field vertically and threaten the middle with deep crossing patterns. Hernandez and Gronkowski are basically a younger and more talented version of Graham and Fauria; they have superior athletic ability, size and are fantastic red zone targets.
The acquisition of Branch proves the theory that New England will be reverting back to its old ways of not having two receivers that get the vast majority of targets. Since 2007, Moss and Welker dominated the Patriots receiving game, and garnered many wins in the process.
Sensing that without Moss his team lacks the talent of two, true top targets, Head Coach Bill Belichick acted the way he always has since taking over in New England, conveying a prevailing all-for-one attitude. Trading for Branch only expands on that thought, as the passing game will look a lot like it did in 2004.
While Deion Branch isn't the player he was a few years ago, his acquisition is certainly significant for the Patriots. Branch gives Brady another target he is comfortable with, someone who knows his tendencies and where he prefers to put the football.
Though the statistics may not show it, Branch will be just as valuable as any other New England receiver this season, as he allows them to revert to the type of play Belichick and Brady are most comfortable with. The play that won them a Super Bowl in 2004.