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.