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Former MVP Branch in the background of Patriots offense

New England Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch scores a touchdown against the New York Jets during fourth quarter of their NFL football gam
New England Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch scores a touchdown against the New York Jets during fourth quarter of their NFL football gam

By Simon Evans

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - He is a double Super Bowl winner and seven years ago was named the Most Valuable Player in the National Football League's ultimate game but Deion Branch rarely gets a mention from pundits surveying the New England Patriots' offense.

Quarterback Tom Brady has such an abundance of quality options in wide receiver Wes Welker and tight-ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernendez, that the contribution of Branch is often overlooked.

Not that the 32-year-old, now in his second spell with the Patriots, is bothered by the absence of plaudits.

"No, that's cool. I just do my job. I can't worry about who is controlling and who's saying A, B, C, D. I just do my job. I'm not here to be the one that says, 'Hey I need all the attention.' That's not me," he told reporters as he prepared for Sunday's clash with the New York Giants.

The attention has primarily been focused on the Patriots' heavy use of their tight-ends with Brady looking increasingly to inside routes rather than out wide.

It is a very different approach to the one Brady took with Branch seven years ago, against the Philadelphia Eagles, when he tied a Super Bowl record with 11 catches for 133 yards and became the first wide-receiver since 1989 to win the MVP award.

When the Patriots lined up against the Giants at the end of the 2007 season, Randy Moss was the main target for Brady and Branch had moved on, to the Seattle Seahawks, after contract extension talks faltered and he was traded.

When Ross was released in October 2010, the Patriots had no hesitation in turning back to Branch, bringing him back from Seattle after more than four years away.


Given the stability in the Patriots coaching personnel it was not hard for Branch to re-adjust to being back under the control of head coach Bill Belichick.

"I think it was pretty smooth. There was a lot of different terminology. Some of the terminology was a little different, but there were bits and pieces that I remembered from the past that once I started hearing it, I knew exactly what it was.

"I would say the transition wasn't as hard when you're used to playing with a certain guy, playing with Tom," he said.

"I was excited, very honored, and blessed to have the opportunity to come back to the same team that drafted me. Guys don't get the opportunity to go through that phase. I was just very thankful."

Branch's numbers do not stand out - 702 yards on 51 receptions this season - but they have to be seen as part of a multi-pronged offense.

Welker, with 1,569 yards from 122 receptions, is ranked the number one wide-receiver in the league while Gronkowski (1,327 yards, 90 receptions) and Hernandez (910 yards, 79 receptions) are among the top five most productive tight ends in the league.

"I can't speak for anyone else's recognition, but from my standpoint and the team's standpoint, I think everyone knows how important Deion is to our to our football team, to our offense and our passing game," said Belichick.

"He does a lot of things. He handles a lot of different responsibilities as far as where he lines up, his position and his assignments," he added, highlighting Branch's blocking abilities as well as his great understanding with Brady.

Branch also has a role before Sunday's game in transmitting his experience from previous Super Bowls to his team mates playing in their first.

"I think overall the only thing I will say that I'm really treating (differently) is I truly enjoy sharing the knowledge with the younger guys in our group and talking to the guys about the experience in the past," he said.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)