FOXBORO, Mass. — Not much more than a month ago, wide receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch hardly knew each other. Since joining forces with the Patriots, they've developed a really deep mutual respect for one another.
"Deion has been great," Welker said. "He's a professional, comes in, runs great routes, total team guy. You love to have guys like that on your team that are committed to winning. Deion is definitely that guy."
Welker and Branch have played well off one another, with Branch adding to Welker's hardworking style on outside routes, while No. 83 continues to do his thing in the slot. Both have remained on point with quarterback Tom Brady, who has relied upon Welker and Branch to serve as leaders among the young receiving corps.
In the five games the pair have played together, they've combined for 49 receptions, 477 yards and one touchdown. Welker has 26 catches for 227 yards, and Branch has 23 receptions, 250 yards and one touchdown. While complementing each other's roles, their production has been nearly identical.
"Seeing a guy like that," Branch said of Welker, "that guy pretty much controls the inside of the football field, the traction that he gets from the defenders. For him to be 5-[foot]-1, this guy can work a lot of magic in the middle. Great player, great energy, he approaches the game totally different, [has a] big heart. I enjoy watching this guy do his thing."
The Patriots' offense has undergone a makeover since they traded Randy Moss and acquired Branch, but that work in progress has provided promise. The offense has worked with a purpose and established an identity that it values every yard it can get. The home-run balls that sometimes got lost in Moss' direction have been replaced by well-executed plays designed to keep fluidity in order.
At times, the execution has faltered, and Welker's measured production suffered for three straight games when defenses aimed to keep him off the stat sheet. But that’s been part of the process, and the statistical shortage doesn’t bother guys like Welker and Branch.
Plus, like Branch said, when Welker isn’t catching passes, he is still having an impact on the rest of the offense. Moss received a ton of praise for commanding double coverages on the outside and through the safeties, but Welker is having a similar effect on the middle of the field.
That has made Branch respect Welker even more, and it's even provided some optimism for how things will shake out down the line.
"You know something is wrong, you know the defense is doing something," Branch said. "There is not a game that you can go in and say, 'We all hope to have 100 yards, 10-15 catches, two or three touchdowns. Realistically, that’s not going to happen. At some point during the season, these teams are going to be like, 'OK, we're going to take this guy away, or take away this away from that person.' You'll see the adjustments."
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