FOXBORO -- Deion Branch returned to New England in a trade last season. He was used to winning Super Bowls with the Patriots, not losing in their first game of the playoffs to a divisional rival.
But that's what happened last year. Branch has said in recent weeks -- and reiterated it again on Thursday -- that previous playoff experiences mean a whole lot of nothing entering Saturday night's playoff game with the Denver Broncos.
But listening to Bill Belichick praise Branch's game on Thursday, it sounds like the Patriots coach is looking for those past experiences to pay off against a solid Broncos defense.
"Deion's a very instinctive receiver," said Belichick. "He was in college, at Louisville, and then from day one when he got here. He's smart. He learns very quickly. He just understands the receiver concepts and techniques."
Belichick pointed out that timing is everything in the passing game. And they'll need plenty of it on Saturday.
"He almost always does what the quarterback would expect him to do," said Belichick. "He just has a good instinct and a good feel for what the right decision to make is, based on what he's seeing, so that he can help the quarterback, where he can be in the spot where the quarterback wants him to be, when he wants him to be there.
"What you really want is the receiver to come open as the quarterback is ready to deliver the ball. And Deion has a great sense for that timing . . . Those are the kind of things that Deion does, that, I don't want to say you can't coach, but it's hard to coach those things, because everyone's a little bit different."
Belichick continued with the praise of Branch, and compared his instincts to that of Troy Brown, Kevin Faulk and Randy Moss.
"He almost always does the right thing, just like Troy Brown, just like Kevin Faulk," said Belichick. "You can run a play, you can practice it all year, and something can come up in the season, that, it's just not the way you talked about it. It's not the way you've practiced it. And then, what they player does, you look at it and say, 'That was the right thing to do.' And the quarterback saw it that way, and the receiver did it that way.
"Branch is great at that. He's great at that. As was Troy Brown, as was Kevin Faulk, and Randy Moss. Those guys, they just knew where they could go, how long they had to get there, how to do it."