I realize they brought this up on "Felger and Mazz" last week while speculating about the Deion Branch trade that was finally consummated last night, but the stats are so eye-popping, it's worth noting again.
For all the talk about how much of a bust Branch was over his four-plus-year stint in Seattle, the numbers he put up don't truly support that argument. From 2002-2006 in New England, Branch caught 213 passes for 2,744 yards and 14 touchdowns, pedestrian numbers for sure, but Patriot fans don't exactly remember Branch for what he did during the regular season over what he accomplished in the playoffs with New England: 41 catches for 629 yards and two touchdowns, including a Super Bowl MVP trophy for a game in which he hauled in 11 catches for 133 yards. Many could rightfully argue it should have been back-to-back Super Bowl honors for the receiver, as all he did against Carolina was catch 10 balls for 143 yards and a touchdown.
Then, of course, following a salary dispute (in Foxborough? You don't say), it was off to Seattle, where he was universally considered a bust. Still, over 51 games with the Seahawks - a stint that was highly criticized for his inability to escape injury, despite playing in just three fewer games than in his Patriots career - Branch caught 190 balls for 2,347 yards and 15 touchdowns. Those are pretty similar numbers for a guy being bid good riddance today in Seattle. Who exactly did the Seahawks think they were getting?
As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer points out, "the production didn't drop off, the high expectations just weren't met."
Also, an astute Patsfans.com message board poster notes, "Branch played with Brady for 100 percent of the games he was in for the Patriots. Branch played with Hasselbeck for 80 percent of the games he was in, with the other 20 percent being with Seattle backup QBs."
As for his health, Branch played 85 percent of the time he was in Seattle, including 18 straight current games. Bust? If Seahawk fans were expecting Jerry Rice, then yeah. Bust.
Perhaps the biggest difference in Branch's Seattle career was his playoff resume, in which he only caught eight passes over three games, and didn't score a touchdown. Still, after averaging four yards after catch over four years in New England, he averaged 3.94 over his four-plus years in Seattle. Randy Moss averages 3.9 for his career, and in 2007, the year he and Brady lit the world on fire, he averaged three yards after catch.
Funny, but you know who's third in the league this year among all receivers and tight ends in yards after catch? Aaron Hernandez, Bill Belichick's rookie tight end. Only Antonio Gates (148) and Austin Collie (195) have more than Hernandez's 142. There's something to be said about how Hernandez reminds you a lot about how the Patriots offense used to run: efficiently and steadily. Oh, you know who led wide receivers in YAC last season? Wes Welker. You know who led the league in 2008 and 2007? Yup.
Clearly, Belichick is thinking about that type of consistent production in bringing in Branch, surrendering the home run threat that Moss gave Brady at the same time. Maybe Brandon Tate can step in and stretch the field at any given opportune time, but isn't Brady better at what he does when he has guys like Branch, Welker, and Hernandez at his disposal? Dink-and-dunk and spreading the ball around brought three Lombardi Trophies. The shiny, new toy brought an AFC title. Which would you rather have?
Branch was targeted just 18 times this season by Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, catching 13 passes for 112 yards. Those sorts of stats don't exactly breed headlines, which is what they expected in Seattle. Branch isn't flashy, but he is one of the more intelligent, crafty football players in the league. Nothing wrong with that if it's what you expect. He won't be the deep threat Moss was during his time here, but he will aid in making sure the offense can drive the field and eat up clock time. With a young, unproven defense, the more of that the Patriots can accomplish, the better.
If you still want to scoff and point out the fact that the Patriots essentially traded Moss for Branch, understand that it's a lot more than talent straight-up. Branch makes the Patriots better at what Belichick hopes to accomplish. Anybody still caught up in Moss hysteria, the Patriots selling on the season, and the ridiculous "Hairgate" simply has to take off the blinders. The Patriots are a better offensive team than they were eight days ago.
That may not necessarily mean they'll score more points, but better offensively they are indeed. The Pats' best defense now is their offense.
Deep threats need not apply.