Alan Branch

Alan Branch sees 22 snaps vs. Jets after being benched last week

Alan Branch sees 22 snaps vs. Jets after being benched last week

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Alan Branch had a pretty significant change in mentality Sunday from the one he took into his team's last game down in Tampa. 

"My mentality was there was an opportunity I was going to play in the game rather than watching on TV," he said. "I was ready for the game rather than not be here at all."

Branch was a healthy scratch for the Patriots win against the Bucs in Week 5. He didn't even make the trip. But he was back in uniform and on the field for Sunday's24-17 win at MetLife Stadium, playing in 22 snaps -- his second-highest snap total after the 42 he saw in Week 1 -- and was credited with one tackle for a loss in the second quarter. 

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"I was really anxious," Branch said. "I just wanted to be out there. No one plays the game not to play. It felt good to be out there. I was just waiting for my opportunity and I'm glad I got that opportunity today." 

Branch played in 12 snaps against the Panthers and in just six against the Saints in Week 2. There were times when he was handled one-on-one, and it seemed as though he found himself on the turf through four weeks more than he had for most of last season. Too often, he did not look like the player who dominated the middle of the line of scrimmage for the Patriots defense last season. 

Though he indicated his benching against the Bucs served no motivational purpose, he acknowledged that he's trying to "get back to playing good football."

"I don't need the coaches to motivate me to do that," Branch said. "I know how good I can play. If I'm not doing it, I always try to get better. Even today I think I could have done a lot better."

Without the benefit of film review, it's hard to know how well Branch executed in his nearly two-dozen snaps. The Patriots played sound run defense against a Jets running game that came into the game as one of the league's top-15 units. They allowed just 3.1 yards per rush and 74 total rushing yards. 

Part of that could have been that the Jets were without Bilal Powell, their top back. But part of it was that played like Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy and Branch (at times) won their matchups in the trenches.

"I usually wait to watch the film to say how good we did or not," Branch said. "I don't know what the stats were. It felt better, but if we were out of gaps in certain plays . . . Lucky is sometimes better than good, but I'd rather be good than lucky."

The Patriots entered the game as a bottom-third run defense, allowing five yards per carry. Sunday marked a step in the right direction for them in that regard, and Branch believes that the team will improve with time. 

"We want a flat wall on the front," he said. "Sometimes there's dips. Sometimes we have issues on the edge. Sometimes in the middle we don't get the knock-back that we need. Pretty much all across the board we need to get better every game until the time when the real season starts, you know?"

After being told to stay home last week, it's advice his team surely hopes he's heeding himself.

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Belichick on Branch being left behind: 'This isn't about one player'

Belichick on Branch being left behind: 'This isn't about one player'

Bill Belichick went into specific detail Friday about why Alan Branch was left behind for Thursday’s win over the Bucs. No, he didn’t. Of course, he didn’t. 

Instead, Belichick essentially gave a lengthy song and dance explaining that you have the players who are unable to play in games because of injury, and then from there you choose which healthy players can play. You do it based on what gives you the best chance to win and blah blah blah. 

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Yet at the tail end of his answer, Belichick basically said what the move suggested: He thinks right now that the Pats are better without Branch than with him. 

“You take the players that you feel are best for that game, that you think will have the biggest impact, or give you the most depth that you feel like you need in that game,” Belichick said. “That’s what we do every week, but whatever players are inactive, you can put the same players in that same conversation.

“This isn’t about one player. It’s whichever players are inactive, whatever the reasons were — combination of reasons — we felt like the players we activated were the ones that gave us the best chance to win the game, which is ultimately what we’re trying to do.”

Branch signed a two-year deal to return to the Patriots in the offseason. He has failed to reach his level of play from last season, which has exacerbated struggles experienced by New England’s defense. 
 

From best to bust: Patriots leave Branch in Foxboro as they face Bucs in Tampa

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From best to bust: Patriots leave Branch in Foxboro as they face Bucs in Tampa

TAMPA, Fla. -- It wasn't all that long ago that Bill Belichick was going out of his way to praise Alan Branch as the Patriots' top interior defensive lineman. 

"Branch, by far, has been our most consistent tackle," Belichick said back in December. "Those other guys can shoot to get up to his level."

Less than a year later, the 6-foot-6, 350-pounder is having trouble finding his way onto the field. 

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Branch did not make the trip to Florida and since he has not been added to the injury report, it appears as though he will be a healthy scratch on Thursday night against the Bucs, according to ESPN's Mike Reiss. 

The story as to how he got here starts on the field. 

Branch was underwhelming in 42 snaps in the season opener, and he saw his playing time dip to just six snaps in Week 2. Against the Texans in Week 3, he seemed to be getting his legs under him with 21 snaps that included one of the key plays in the game -- a third-and-one stop in the fourth quarter that paved the way for Tom Brady's comeback drive. 

Last week against the Panthers, though, Branch dropped back down to 12 snaps and did little while on the field to garner more playing time. He was pancaked by Carolina guard Trai Turner in the second quarter on a quick pass play to Christian McCaffrey. On one snap in the third quarter, he got too far upfield and left a hole for Jonathan Stewart to run through for nine yards. Later on the same series, Turner controlled Branch again, planting him on the ground (and on the back of Elandon Roberts' leg) for an eight-yard Cam Newton run. 

At his best, Branch is a space-eater extraordinaire able to hold his ground against double-teams, allowing linebackers to make clean tackles. But over the last two seasons, he's been more than that, able to push the pocket and prevent quarterbacks from stepping up and away from pass-rushers. He's also been a consistent contributor on the field goal and field-goal block units. 

By being left off the plane to Tampa, it seems to be an indication that there aren't many situations in which Branch is trusted at the moment. 

Branch, as usual, did not participate in OTAs this spring, and he missed much of training camp on the physically unable to perform list. But this doesn't look like a "well, he needs more time" issue to work himself into game shape. Players like Nate Solder and Dont'a Hightower missed large chunks of camp as well, and Branch was trusted to play a significant amount in the season-opener.

Branch told Mike Giardi this week that it's hard for him to round into the player he's been over the last few seasons while sitting on the sidelines. But right now, the Patriots haven't seen enough of him while he's on the field to keep him out there. As a result, for the first time since 2014, Branch won't be in uniform when the Patriots take the field Thursday night.

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