Last year's midseason substitution from Randy Moss to Branch helped the Patriots' offense become more efficient and methodical. They could out-think defenses and beat coverages because the receivers stayed in sync with quarterback Tom Brady, who speaks glowingly about one of his best friends on the team.
Earlier this week, head coach Bill Belichick said Branch was one of the smartest players he's ever coached. Hence, his involvement in the offense was crucial to the team's success.
But when Branch didn't catch a pass during the preseason, his doubters said he was old, slow and couldn't beat corners like he used to. When he only had one total reception during Weeks 3 and 4, they said the 32-year-old hit that wall.
It seems like there might be more gut reactions about Branch than anyone else in the locker room.
"As long as we win the game," Branch said about his production. "Unfortunately, the game I didn't get a ball, that was the Buffalo game we lost. That means nobody did anything good. The game that we won and I had one catch, the Oakland game, [it was a] touchdown. We won, and it didn't make any difference [that I scored]. We won the game. That's the main goal. My personal statistics don't matter. As long as we win, I'm cool. If we lose, I would like to have a little more input in the game if I don't have a catch or whatever, but [the criticism] is a personal opinion about whoever is doing the writing. Who knows? Maybe it's somebody who doesn't like me. I don't know."
Branch has also had three games during the regular season with at least seven receptions. It's a game-plan offense that thrives on working through opportunities, and sometimes that means Branch will play a key role, and other times he'll be in statistical purgatory, even if that means he's contributing elsewhere.
The individual stats aren't important to the Patriots' offensive players, so when they hit a dip, they don't particularly mind it much. That's why Branch tunes out the critics who think he's too old or lost a step.
"If we go through a game, and we win and I have one catch, what is the big picture?" Branch said. "The big picture for us is winning the game, not, 'What is Deion doing, Chad [Ochocinco], Wes [Welker], Tom? You'll never hear Tom boasting about throwing eight, nine touchdowns a game. It's not a big deal if we won. We did whatever we had to do to win. But overall, if [critics] are quick to do it, someone may have something against me or something. I don't know. That's why I say I don't really hear it. Man, I've got kids. I don't have time to be watching stuff after I leave work. I go home, study film and spend time with my family. All the extra stuff, I really don't pay attention to it."
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