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


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. 


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.


QUICK SLANTS THE PODCAST: Jerod Mayo breaks down the best way for Patriots to attack Jaguars defense


QUICK SLANTS THE PODCAST: Jerod Mayo breaks down the best way for Patriots to attack Jaguars defense

Jerod Mayo talks with Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry about the Patriots AFC Championship matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

(2:00) Jerod Mayo gives his X’s and O’s breakdown of the Jaguars defensive schemes and traits.

(5:00) Jerod gives his opinion on how the Patriots offense should attack the Jaguars defense.

(8:30) Could Gronkowski be the key to the Patriots offense? What would be the best way to use him?

(15:00) Does the Jaguars defense have a weakness against vertical routes?

(17:00) Jerod Mayo explains why James White could be a key once again for the Patriots. 

(21:00) Will Jaguars change their defensive scheme after allowing 42 to the Steeler?

(23:00) Will much will the Jaguars having the ‘nothing to lose’ mindset impact the game?

Jaguars have Ramsey's back


Jaguars have Ramsey's back

Enough has been made of Jalen Ramsey’s bold proclamation that the Jaguars are going to win the Super Bowl despite the fact that they’re aren’t even on that stage yet.

I know it’s not how the Patriots do business but other teams do. Does it generally work? Well, no one can match the Pats sustainability but that doesn’t mean that style can’t be effective in shorter windows.

Look at the Seahawks or Ravens. Even the Giants could be boisterous. That leads me back to the Jags, who have Ramsey’s back.

“We’re so close that I think it’s OK to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this,’’’ said defensive tackle Malik Jackson.

“The man has confidence in his team,” added Abry Jones, also a defensive tackle. “What’s he going to say? He knows what we’re going up there to do. It’s not like he’s saying anything that’s not true.”

“He does things very passionately,” Calais Campbell told the Rich Eisen show. “You feed off that. When you see a guy who loves the game as much as he does, you can’t help but fall into the same mentality.”

That is what makes Ramsey different from say Mike Mitchell, the Steelers safety who ran his mouth weeks ago about beating the Patriots in the AFC title game and then stood outside the Jags locker room and yapped about what a long day the visitors were in forSunday. How’s that working out for Mitchell now? He’s at home while Ramsey is about to play in his biggest game as a pro.

“He’s going to talk, but he’s going to show up,” Yannick Ngakoue said. “I just don’t like people talking all week. You talk reckless, man, and you lose. It is what it is.”

That is not an indicator to the Jags that Ramsey is looking ahead.

“He’s just happy,” noted Ngakoue. “He understands we have a giant in front of us and he’s got to pay all of his attention to this team. We don’t even know who’s going to play in the Super Bowl…We understand we have to do what we have to do or we’ll be watching the Super Bowl at home like everybody else.”

Of course, Ngakoue, the gifted edge rusher on that fearsome front 4, had some pointed words to the Steelers after that 45-42 win Sunday saying “real people don’t say nothing. Real people are quiet but then throw the first punch…they thought they were bullies today. We were the bullies. See you next year.”

That’s not Ramsey’s modus operandi however. He got under A.J. Green’s skin so much that the normally peaceful Bengals wideout threw punches at the Jags corner during the game and reportedly wanted more after the game. Then - and now - Jacksonville seems okay with it so long as the All-Pro corner continues to deliver the goods.

“Everybody has their own persona,” said Leonard Fournette. “Whatever motivates them. We aren’t worried about two weeks ahead of us. We aren’t worried about the Super Bowl. It’s the next game. It’s Sunday in New England.”