FOXBORO, Mass. — Alan Branch was the New England Patriots’ most consistent defensive tackle last season. Head coach Bill Belichick said it himself after the last time the Patriots played the New York Jets in a 41-3 win at Gillette Stadium.
As the Patriots get set to face the Jets again Sunday less than 10 months later, there’s a question of whether Branch will even join his teammates on the trip to MetLife Stadium.
Branch was a healthy scratch last Thursday in the Patriots’ 19-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Branch didn’t even make the trip to Tampa Bay with his teammates. He was informed on the day of the trip.
Branch knows better than to say too much about the benching.
“That’s a question you’ve got to ask Bill, man,” Branch said Friday in the Patriots’ locker room. “I told you, man, I ain’t answering any of those trick questions from y’all. The reason, he knows. I would’ve went if it was up to me, but I just do what I’m told. Above my pay grade on that.”
Branch said he didn’t stray from his normal practice routine this week but did admit there’s been a difference in his play this season.
“I guess a little bit,” Branch said. “I don’t really — I haven’t seen myself on film that often to be able to tell you, but like I said, just trying to get better every day, make sure, if I’m not as good as I was last year, that I’m making steps to get there. I can just control what I can control.”
Branch played over 60 percent of defensive snaps last season but has seen that percentage plummet to 23.9 this season. Even before he was a healthy scratch last Thursday, Branch was playing just 30.3 percent of defensive snaps.
He was on the field for his customary 61.8 percent of defensive snaps (42) in the Patriots’ Week 1 loss to the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. His snap count dipped to six in Week 2, 21 in Week 3, 12 in Week 4 and zero in Week 5. It seems Branch doesn’t believe he’s receiving enough snaps to show what he still can do.
“I was on the field (in 2016),” Branch said. “I’m not on the field this year. I was on the field last year. So, that’s the biggest difference.”
When asked a follow-up, he said it wasn’t about finding a rhythm in those snaps.
Branch is one of the oldest members of the team at 32 years old, but he’s leaning on his younger teammates to get him through this trying period.
“I just go out here and practice hard,” Branch said. “Just try to do as best as I can with the guys. We do a good job of keeping each other focusing on what we need to do, so everybody’s done a great job keeping me in the game, keeping my head ready to go and everything. I’m still having fun out there and ready to make plays. …
“Practice feels the same. Just go out there and when they tell me to go out on the field and play, I’m gonna try to make plays. That’s basically it.”
Branch doesn’t know if he’ll play this week. If Week 5 is any indication, he might not find out until Saturday afternoon.
“I expect to play every week, so if I got the opportunity, then I’m just gonna go out there and play ball,” Branch said.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images