Turn Over a New Leaf: To begin again, fresh; to reform and begin again.
After Randy Moss was shipped to Minnesota, there was now a gaping a hole in the Patriots passing attack. Brady would no longer have his field-stretching binky to throw bombs to. He now had to relearn the dink and dunk offense that brought home three Lombardi Trophies in the early 2000s.
One of the focal points of that dynastic offense was Deion Branch. Chosen by New England in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft out of Louisville, Branch and Brady had an instant kinship on the field. They knew what the other was going to do without even saying a word.
The chemistry was evident during Branch’s four years with the Patriots. Branch had 213 catches for 2,744 yards and 14 touchdowns. These are not eye-popping stats but Branch did his damage in the pressure-filled arena of the NFL playoffs.
In Super Bowl XXXVIII, Branch torched the Carolina Panthers defense. He had 10 catches for 143 yards and a TD. He arguably could have been the Super Bowl MVP but was edged by Brady’s 354 yards passing and three touchdown tosses.
Branch brought his postseason play to a new level in 2004 especially during the AFC Championship and Super Bowl XXXIX. Brady found Branch four times for 116 yards including a 60-yard scoring strike against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. He helped catapult the Patriots to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.
Super Bowl XXXIV was vintage Deion Branch. He seemed to excel on the game’s biggest stage. He took his aggressions out on the other team from Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Eagles. They had no answer for the speedy Patriots receiver as Branch hauled in 11 catches for 133 yards. His record-tying performance earned him Super Bowl MVP honors.
Branch’s last game in a Patriots uniform was one of his best. Against the Denver Broncos in the playoffs, Branch brought his A-game even in a loss. He caught eight balls for 153 yards.
After a holdout during training camp prior to the 2006 season, Branch was shipped to the Seattle Seahawks for a first-round pick.
His first season in the Pacific Northwest was somewhat successful with 53 catches for 725 yards, but everything went downhill for Deion after that. Injuries caused a decrease in his production. He seemed to be wasting away in Seattle.
But who said you could never go home again or turn over a new leaf?
To boost the now Moss-less offense, the Patriots re-acquired Branch for a fourth-round pick. The question everyone was asking was, "Can he rekindle his magic with Tom Brady?"
Well if one game is any indication, let’s party like it's 2004.
In a slobber knocker of a game versus the Baltimore Ravens, Deion Branch came through in the clutch yet again. With little preparation and knowing only 25 percent of the plays, Branch made an instant impact.
The Patriots crowd gave their old friend a standing ovation after his first catch.
And he returned the favor by making a majority of his nine catches (for 98 yards and a score) during the fourth quarter and overtime. He was instrumental in a huge comeback win for New England versus Baltimore.
Branch’s chemistry with Brady may have taken a four-year hiatus but it picked up right where it left off.
And Patriots nation rolled out the welcome mat for their old friend.
Welcome back to New England, Deion. It was like you never left.
Joe Gill writes for Boston Sports Then and Now