After getting shut out in three exhibition games, Branch is tied for the team lead with 15 receptions through two weeks of the regular season, and he had eight catches for 129 yards Sunday against the Chargers.
Many Patriots, from the top down, said Branch's preseason production was meaningless, and that has been proven over and again. Branch noted how good he felt during practice and building up his rapport in training camp, which had given him a huge advantage after last year's midseason arrival.
"I stressed so much about it," Branch said about arriving in New England last October and not being up to par with the offense. "[It] was only game planning. So, we get a playbook on Monday and focus on the things Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. There were a lot of things that I missed in training camp last year that Tom [Brady] was doing on the football field that they would tell me on the sidelines, that I didn't have the opportunity to go over during the game. But this year, I had the whole training camp.
For that, Branch said he's "a lot more comfortable" with the playbook, particularly when he hears the call in the huddle. Now, he's back to being the guy who thrived in New England from 2002-05 when he caught 213 passes in 53 regular-season games. He fell off a bit in Seattle, where he caught 190 passes in 51 games. Now, he's got 63 receptions in 13 games in his second stint in New England.
It's obvious that Brady has a special type of connection with Branch, and his addition to the offense has made them much more effective since last October. In one small sampling Sunday, Branch ran two perfect sideline routes before halftime to catch a pair of passes for 18 yards. Since the Patriots didn't have any timeouts, anything less than a perfect route would have kept the Pats outside of field-goal range.
"I've thrown a lot of passes to him over the years," Brady said. "There's nobody that I enjoy playing with more than this guy. It's always been that way. He's my locker-mate and one of my great friends. He's just everything you look for in a receiver."