WR Deion Branch returns to Patriots - again


WR Deion Branch returns to Patriots - again

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) One week into his second round of unemployment this season, Deion Branch had just picked his daughter up at school when she wondered why he had so much free time.

He broke the news to 7-year-old D'Ahni.

``She said, `Dad, what happened? Why aren't you playing?''' the New England Patriots wide receiver said Thursday. ``I said, `Baby, daddy can't play right now. I don't have a job.' And she said, `aw, you'll get one.' And I said, `I know, baby.'''

It's almost as if she had sat in during her father's conversation with coach Bill Belichick.

Perhaps Belichick told him he'd return at some point?

``I'll keep that between us,'' Branch said with a smile and a laugh, one day after re-signing.

Branch was released on Nov. 17 and missed the past four games. But the nameplate at his locker, ``Deion Branch 84,'' remained - just as it did for the first two games of the season after he was cut shortly before it began. He was back for Game 3.

Standing before the locker where a family photo was displayed on the top shelf and football gloves hung from a bar, the 11-year veteran said he wants to retire as a Patriot. He said he'll do whatever the team needs from him, starting Sunday night when the Patriots (10-3), winners of seven straight, host the San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) in a meeting of Super Bowl contenders.

It's been nearly seven years since Branch was named MVP of the Super Bowl after catching 11 passes in a 24-21 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

``It was a long time ago,'' he said, ``but that stuff is in the past. It's behind us. I think we all need to be grateful, be thankful just to play the game that we play. I'm thankful. I seize every moment that I get. I'm just glad to be back.''

The Patriots drafted him in 2002 and he led them with 78 catches, 998 yards receiving and five touchdown catches in 2005. But he was involved in a contract dispute and traded to the Seattle Seahawks after the first game in 2006. He remained there until being traded back to New England after the fourth game in 2010. He had 35 catches for the Patriots that year and 51 last year.

The Patriots let him go again, this time as a free agent on March 13. But 17 days later he was back, signing a one-year contract. Before his latest release, Branch was bothered by a hamstring injury. He did rehabilitation and said he feels OK now. But would he have been re-signed if wide receiver Donte' Stallworth hadn't gone on injured reserve this week?

``I don't know,'' he said. ``Everything happens for a reason and with guys that are patient, stuff happens for them. I'm a patient guy.''

The Patriots signed Stallworth after wide receiver Julian Edelman went on injured reserve Dec. 4. Belichick might have brought Branch back even if Stallworth were healthy. But he was hurt on a 63-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady, his only catch in his only game of the season.

Now he's the one rehabbing.

``There's no rush, so I want to make sure that I get it back right,'' Stallworth said, standing near a removable boot on the floor of his locker stall.

Stallworth knows the drill, of course. He also has been back and forth with the Patriots several times. He caught 46 passes for the 2007 team that was 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. Then he signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Browns for 2008 and was suspended for the 2009 season after a car he was driving struck and killed a pedestrian in South Florida that March. Stallworth spent 24 days in jail for a DUI manslaughter conviction.

He played for Baltimore in 2010 and Washington in 2011 and signed with the Patriots last March. But they released him on Aug. 27, just four days before Branch was cut.

``He's one of my guys,'' Branch said. ``We came in the draft class together.''

On Thursday, Branch returned to work as if, it almost seemed, he had never left.

``Nothing's changed,'' he said. ``All the guys just walked past my locker like nothing ever happened, so I didn't get any hugs, just `Hey, how you doing? What's up?'''

With or without Branch, the Patriots have kept winning throughout the past decade.

``This is where I want to be. This is where I want to retire,'' he said. ``So that kind of makes everything a lot easier.''

Especially now that he has a shot at another championship, as long as the Patriots keep him.

``That's what I hope,'' he said.

Surely, D'Ahni hopes the same thing.


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Phil Chenier becomes fifth Bullets player to ever have his jersey retired


Phil Chenier becomes fifth Bullets player to ever have his jersey retired

On the newest banner that hangs from the rafters at Capital One Arena, a small microphone - embroidered with a white 33 - is subtly stitched into the bottom left corner. 

You'd barely notice it was there; Phil Chenier certainly didn't.

Chenier, who had his #45 jersey retired tonight during halftime of tonight's Wizards-Nuggets game, didn't even notice the mic, added to signify his three decades as a broadcaster with the team.

"I had no idea there was even a mic on it," Chenier said, laughing. "I'll have to go back out and look at it some more."

Despite the Wizards' 108-100 loss, the night was first and foremost a celebration of Chenier - the 5th player in franchise history to have his number rasied in the rafters. He joins Earl Monroe, Elvin Hayes, Gus Johnson, and Wes Unseld as the only players to achieve the honor so far.

"To be up there with the other 4 names means a lot – people I had the fortune of playing with," he added. "I remember my first day of practice and I had just watched this team play in the finals and now I’m plopped down with Wes Unfeld and Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson. It seemed like they accepted me from the get go."

Many from that 1978 Championship team were in attendance on Friday night, watching as one of their teammates cemented his professional legacy. For Chenier, that acceptance as an All-Time Bullets great is at the core of why he played the game.

"You know, when you play this game, you play for acceptance," he said. "You want to be the best, you want to be accepted. Having players and childhood friends – and of course, your family – here, you’re surrounded by so many people that meant a lot to you both before and now. It’s a really humbling feeling.”

It was hard to find someone in DC without something good to say about Chenier on Friday night. Even in the basement of Capital One Center, after the Wizards' fifth loss in seven games, head coach Scott Brooks took a moment out of his press conference to praise Chenier. 

"[Chenier] is a great ambassador and we all love him," Brooks said. "It's well deserved. It's going to be pretty cool seeing his jersey every time we step into this building."

Fans left the arena with a commemorative Phil Chenier cut out. Phil Chenier left the arena with his number retired. The experience was, according to the man himself, everything he thought it'd be. 

"You don’t know what the emotions are going to be..." he told media members after the ceremony."...Obviously it’s something I thought about, but it really was exciting to see the 45 up there and my name."

Then Chenier cracked a smile.

"I’m glad it’s over with."

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Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

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Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

The Washington Wizards lost to the Denver Nuggets 108-100 on Friday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Another loss: It is becoming more and more clear that the Wizards need a shot in the arm, something to change the direction of where they are currently heading.

Whether that will come in the form of All-Star point guard John Wall returning from his months-long absence, an adjustment to their lineup or strategy, or something else entirely, the losses are piling up and at a tough time in the season.

With another loss on Friday night, their seventh in their last 11 games, the Wizards are now 40-32. They have plenty of room to still clinch a playoff berth, as their magic number stands at two, but they only have 10 games left to secure their all-important playoff seed.

Both the Pacers and Cavaliers, two teams just ahead of them in the playoff race, won on Friday.

The Wizards lost their second straight game and again offense was their problem. They scored 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers.

Big third quarter: The Denver Nuggets have emerged as a team on the rise, a young squad with burgeoning stars that could someday soon make some noise in the Western Conference. The reason is because they are very good on offense. Defense is a much different story.

That was not the case on Friday night, as the Wizards had all sorts of trouble scoring in three of their four quarters. They managed just 43 points by halftime, the fewest the Nuggets have allowed in a first half since Jan. 27.

The Wizards, though, did get cooking in the third quarter. They erupted for 33 points in the frame while shooting 63.2 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from three. Markieff Morris, who finished with 17, had 11 points in the third quarter and Bradley Beal (24 points) hit three threes.

The Wizards also found a solution for Jamal Murray, one of the Nuggets' brightest young stars. He had 20 points at halftime, but went scoreless in nine minutes in the third quarter. Kelly Oubre, Jr. (15 points) was among those who gave him trouble. Murry finished with 25.

The big third quarter reflected well on the Wizards' ability to make adjustments, but their 24-point fourth quarter flipped the script again.


Didn't force mistakes: The first time these teams squared off back in October, the Wizards forced the Nuggets into 23 turnovers. This game was a very different story. 

The Nuggets didn't commit their first turnover until midway through the second quarter and had only three by halftime. They had just 10 turnovers for the game.

Denver deserves some credit for limiting their mistakes, but all of it did not reflect well on the Wizards' defense. They didn't put enough pressure on the ball and failed to disrupt passing lanes like they usually do. It was uncharacteristic, as the Wizards entered the game 10th in average turnovers forced.

Not creating mistakes allowed the Nuggets to get way to many field goal attempts. Though they shot just 43.5 percent, Denver managed 108 points. And not getting turnovers offered the Wizards few opportunities for easy transition buckets.

Turnovers were one issue with the Wizards' defense. So was defending the perimeter, as the Nuggets shot 17-for-34 (50%) from long range. It is worth noting the Nuggets were without their leading scorer Gary Harris, a guy who is dangerous from long range.


Special night: Halftime offered a memorable moment in franchise history as legendary player and broadcast Phil Chenier had his No. 45 jersey retired by the team. His longtime broadcaster and friend Steve Buckhantz hosted the ceremony with about 20 friends and family members of Chenier's seated behind him. Buckhantz had opening comments, then majority owner Ted Leonsis spoke as everyone in the crowd stood and cheered.

Then, it was Chenier's time to talk. He thanked his former teammates, members of the organization and those close to him. He kept his composure until the very end when he brought up his mother, Peggy, who could not make the event. Chenier choked up and wiped away tears as he described what she has meant to him in his life.

It was a powerful moment and a great ceremony to honor a guy who has impacted the lives of many in the D.C. area. Now, his No. 45 will hang up in the rafters forever. That banner, by the way, features a picture of a microphone and the phrase '33 years,' signifying how long he was the color analyst for Bullets and Wizards games.


Up next: The Wizards do not have a game Saturday, though they are going to practice and Wall is expected to take a big step forward in his rehab. Their next game is Sunday at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington when they host the Knicks. That will also be a special game, as the Wizards are set to honor the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship.

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