A sunny October day in Kansas City, Missouri. The year 2006. The opponent the Kansas City Chiefs, once a division rival, now an every once in a while game against a team that we’ll only play a meaningful game against if we reach the Superbowl. Seneca Wallace is behind center. Running Back Mo Morris and Full Back Mack Strong are lined up behind Seneca. We’re down by a touchdown with two minutes. Jared Allen picks off a Seneca Wallace pass. From out of nowhere Deion Branch, a receiver we traded our 2007 first round draft pick to acquire just before the season started, strips the ball from Jared Allen giving the Seahawks another chance to win the game.
Unfortunately, we lost the game. But that play showed us something about Deion Branch, it showed us he knows how to hustle and play smart. Most offensive players are lucky to make a touchdown saving tackle after an interception much less strip the ball and recover it. You rarely see an offensive player on any team that can play defense, but on that day Deion Branch played defense nearly as well as he plays offense. It would have been nice to have him on the field in Week 2 against the San Francisco 49ers when the offense let San Francisco Middle Linebacker Patrick Willis run a Matt Hasselbeck interception back 86 yards for a touchdown. If the Seattle Seahawks had more players like Deion Branch on the team that touchdown might not have happened and the Seahawks would have won the game.
Several media sources including Frank Hughes of The News Tribune and Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer are reporting that Seahawks Wide Receiver Deion Branch will return to the line-up against the New York Giants. If you managed to catch Seahawks Head Coach Mike Holmgren's press conference this week, he confirmed that Branch will most likely play with the usual Mike Holmgren cautionary phrase "We'll see how he practices".
Controversy has surrounded Deion Branch since he came to Seattle after holding out for a new contract prior to training camp with the New England Patriots in 2006. Could he live up to first round draft pick status? When you trade a first round draft pick for a player, you expect a big impact immediately. Deion did not provide that big impact, but not because he wasn’t capable or he wasn’t trying.
In 2006 Deion Branch played nine games with Matt Hasselbeck including the Chicago playoff game due to an injury to Hasselbeck incurred during a week 7 game against the Minnesota Vikings that cost Hasselbeck four games and the preseason trade that brought Branch to the Seahawks late enough that he wasn’t ready to play the first two regular season games when Matt was healthy. Once Matt and Deion were on the field together, Matt continued to go to the receivers he knew best: Jackson, Engram, and Hackett. Even so Deion showed flashes of greatness in 2006 hauling in two touchdowns against the Rams in Saint Louis in a very close game and a solid defensive play in Kansas City against the Chiefs that gave us another shot to win that game. But we still didn’t see the chemistry between receiver and quarterback that would catapult Branch to legitimate number one receiver status for the Seahawks.
In 2007 the Branch-Hasslebeck connection was off to a fine start producing a few hundred yard receiving games against the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. Unfortunately the receiving connection broke in Pittsburgh when Deion Branch suffered a sprained foot that sidelined him for five games. The connection reconnected against Chicago and continued unabated from there until it suffered a more severe break in the snow in Green Bay when Deion Branch tore his ACL while running a route early in the second half.
After 8 months of rehabilitation we will once again see the Hasslebeck-Branch Connection on the field this Sunday October 5th against the New York Giants. This is yet another chance to see if it was worth giving up our 2007 first round draft choice. Deion has shown flashes of greatness during a bumpy two, going on three, years with the Seahawks. He’s shown flashes of the promise that made GM Tim Ruskell feel that trading a valuable first round draft choice was worth it for a player of Deion’s quality. The flashes have been brief, and with too many interruptions to know how much we got for what we gave up, but they’ve been white hot at times.
If Deion Branch can endure, we may see the promise he brought with him from New England fulfilled. He was on pace to a near 1000 yard season in 2007 before his foot sprain sidelined him. In the eleven games he started, he accumulated 661 yards, roughly 60 yards a game, in an offense that spreads the ball around to many different receivers.
This Sunday he won’t be expected to save the team, but he should provide Matt Hasselbeck with a more reliable receiving option than he has had since Nate Burleson went down in Week 1 against Buffalo. It won’t hurt to have Deion’s hustle and smarts on the field as well, especially if Matt makes a mistake when the pressure comes from the New York Giants impressive front four led by Defensive End Justin Tuck.
So let’s get hyped. Deion is back.