FOXBORO - Sunday night, a writer from Philadelphia asked Deion Branch if he looked across the line of scrimmage at the Eagles and thought back to his brilliant performance in the 2004 Super Bowl against those Eagles. Beyond the fact it's almost seven years in Branch's rearview, when one considers all the things Branch has seen and done since, you can appreciate why Branch simply laughed. "That's a loooong time ago," Branch answered. "Long time. I can barely ever remember that. It's been a minuteThe 32-year-old has been in the league for 10 seasons and is on the third and final act of his career. And this final act has been a stirring one. On Sunday, Branch had 6 catches for 125 yards. So far this year, he's got 45 catches for 428 yards and 4 touchdowns. Over the next five games, he could approach his best single-season as a Patriot. In 2005 Branch had 78 catches, 998 yards and 4 scores.He does things on the field with Tom Brady that make it seem like they share a cerebellum. The broken play, 63-yarder in the first half Sunday was an instance of that. "You have two smart guys, both very instinctive players," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick explained Monday when asked how Brady and Branch are able to communicate so well. "If something comes up that you haven't done or talked about before . . . what they would do would probably most of the time be what you want them to do. So that puts them pretty much on the same page to begin with. Add in the experience and reps that they've had together . . . I'm sure that's added to it and doing it on the field in live game situations adds to it."Belichick spent time Monday talking about hownaturally gifted Branch and Brady arein the passing game. "Deion's a very instinctive receiver," Belichick noted. "He has a great sense of timing of when the quarterback isready to throw the ball, when he needs to be open, when to get open and Tom, from his position, has that same sense of what the receiver should do in certain situations. And that's almost always what Deion would do."Off the field, Branch is unique as well. He brings no wariness to his dealings with the media, no condescension, nothing adversarial. He is, in short, a pro. "Great to have on the team," Belichick said of Branch. "Always got a smile on his face. Alert, attentive. Likes to practice, likes to work. Adds a lot to the team environment . . . Great leader, great example for all of us because of the way he goes about his job and how professional he is. He's always got a lot of energy."He may have energy, butafter the aforementioned 2005 season, he lost patience. Irritated that his contract hadn't been reworked and witha year left on it, Branch held out on thePattriots. Ultimately, Branch was dealt to Seattle where he made close to 40 million but didn'trealize anywhere close to the same success on the field. The Patriots, who had no receiving answer to replace Branch in 2006, paid more dearly for being unable to work a deal than Branch did. They blew a very realistic chance at a fourth Super Bowl in five seasons, choosing not to pay Branch while making Brady spend the season throwing to Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel and Benjamin Watson. But by last season, the contract issues had been all but forgotten. "I never had a problem with Deion on the field," Belichick said. "Never had a football-related problem with Deion. He's always been great to coach. Contracts are contracts. But as far as football, as a player-coach relationship it's always been good with him. Never been a problemHe came back right after the Patriots dealt Randy Moss last October. Now, in 22 games with the Patriots since returning, Branch has 93 catches, 1,446 yards and 9 scores. He's neither as fast or quick as he once was. Crafty would be the word to best describeBranch now. And trusted. Unlike the other 30-plus guy the Patriots brought aboard this preseason to whom they're paying much more than they are to Branch . For a guy who always knows how to find the right spot, Deion Branch is currently in a good spot.
Is it Tom Brady? Is it Bill Belichick? Well, yes and yes. But there are other reasons for why the Patriots are 8-2, obviously, and Belichick highlighted one of them by lauding one of the most unsung players on his 53-man active roster.
What Ted Karras did on Sunday -- filling in against the Raiders as the starting center in place of David Andrews -- was just one of many examples of a player making the most of an opportunity presented to him, Belichick explained.
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"Ted always works hard," he said after the Patriots beat the Raiders, 33-8. "Nobody spends more time at the facility than he does. Training. Preparing. He had an opportunity, and he stepped up and did the most with it. That's what we needed. That's why we have a good team. We have a lot of guys who do that."
Andrews came down with an illness last week and missed the team's final two practices at the Air Force Academy. As the primary fill-in at all three interior offensive line spots, Karras was tapped as the replacement, and he played all 60 offensive snaps for the Patriots in what was his first start since filling in for Shaq Mason during the 2016 season-opener.
Karras had played just nine snaps going into the game -- all in a blowout against the Broncos the week prior -- but was part of an effort in the trenches that allowed Tom Brady to remain relatively clean for the vast majority of the game. On 38 drop-backs, Brady was pressured just seven times, he was hit three times, and he was sacked only once. And for the second consecutive week, Brady's offensive line was not penalized.
Considering that Karras wasn't the only fill-in used, the offensive line's performance was all the more impressive. LaAdrian Waddle continued to be the primary replacement for Marcus Cannon, who is dealing with an ankly issue, and when Waddle left Sunday's game briefly on two different occasions then Cameron Fleming took his place.
"They did a great job to step in like that . . . [Waddle] was battling out there, going against some really good players," Brady said. "It was a great team win. Great by the offensive line. They've really done a great job with the penalty situation, moving the line of scrimmage and so forth. Great protection. We just have to keep it going."
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Terry Glenn, the Patriots' top draft pick in 1996 who had a tumultous six-year career with the team -- and who also caught the first NFL touchdown pass ever thrown by Tom Brady -- died early Monday morning in a one-car accident in Irving, Texas. He was 43.
Glenn wound up playing 12 years in the National Football League, joining first the Packers and then the Cowboys after leaving the Patriots in controversy in 2001. Glenn was involved in a pay dispute with the team during training camp, had issues with the coaching staff, and was deactivated by Bill Belichick after the fourth game of the year. He wasn't given a Super Bowl ring after the Pats beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
He had earlier clashed with Bill Parcells as a rookie, with Parcells famously referring to Glenn as "she" when he was sidelined with a minor injury. He caught 90 passes for 1,132 yards and six touchdowns in '96 to help the Patriots advance to the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history; they were beaten by Green Bay in Super Bowl XXVI.
Glenn and Parcells reunited in Dallas in 2003 after Glenn had spent one yeat with the Packers, and he played the remainder of his career with the Cowboys. He had two 1,000-yard receiving seasons in Dallas.
According to reports, Glenn was with his fiance at the time of the accident. She's being treated at a local hospital for unspecified injuries.
He played college football at Ohio State.