When Deion Branch returned to the Patriots Wednesday, he wasn’t met with much fanfare.
His stall, just to the right of quarterback Tom Brady’s, had remained intact since he was released Nov. 17. His reception was cordial and businesslike.
“All the guys just walk past my locker like nothing ever happened,” said Branch. “So I didn’t get any hugs or anything like that. Just like, ‘How you doing? What’s up?’ Just another day, man. That’s what happens in this business.”
Branch said that while he was away he watched Patriots games, keeping abreast of how the team was playing and waiting for a chance to return after he rehabilitated a hamstring injury.
“It was a little different,” said Branch. “I was talking to Tom about that. You realize how much you miss the game when you’re down and you’re away from it. But at the same time, you really realize how good of a team we have because I understand what’s going on when I’m watching plays and stuff.
“But we still have a lot of work to do. I can still see the plays where we’re messing up on. But at the same time, you see what we’re doing as a fan. It was fascinating.”
Because he knows the Patriots playbook, he was able to predict some of what transpired on the field.
“Tom pretty much dictates everything,” he said. “But I can see from the plays I remember, other than the ones that they put in that were new, some of the things that I was looking at I can see what I think his reads are. It’s amazing for me to do that.”
When asked how Brady did, Branch laughed.
“He did great,” he said.
Branch said it was almost as if he never left, and he is pleased for the opportunity to fill a role created by the injuries to Julian Edelman and Donte Stallworth.
“Nothing’s changed around here,” he said. “The guys are the same. They’re still winning. That’s good and I’m just glad to be back.”
Branch was released before the Patriots opener but was re-signed Sept. 19, three days after Aaron Hernandez went down with an ankle injury.
He played seven games but was released again because of the hamstring injury.
“It’s just situations,” he said. “Every situation is different. It’s part of the business. You understand certain things. This is what happens, but at the same time, you know what your goals are. I know what’s important, the team knows what’s important. We sit down every time with things like this whether it’s me or someone else. Coach Belichick and this organization is straightforward. He let’s you know what’s what. Everything is a lot better when you’re straightforward with guys and they do a great job with that.”
Branch said he didn’t pursue opportunities elsewhere because he was waiting for a call from the Patriots.
“This is where I want to be,” he said. “Someone else may be different. I only speak for myself. This is where I want to be. This is where I want to retire. That kind of makes everything a lot more easier.”
Branch said his No. 1 goal is to help the team.
“I’m stepping in as if I never left,” he said. “I’m here to just do whatever guys need me to do, whatever Tom needs me to do on offense, whatever my team needs me to do. That’s my job.”
He said he was always hopeful the Patriots would call.
“I expected that but anything can happen,” Branch said. “The team had to do what was best for them. Everything works out for a reason. I think in this case, it worked out in the right way.”
It was almost eight years ago when Branch was named Super Bowl MVP, and he said it seems like an eternity.
“That was a long time ago, when we won,” he said. “That stuff is in the past. We all need to be grateful and thankful just to play the game that we play. Trust me, I’m one of the guys [who] is very thankful. I seize every moment that I get. I’m just glad to be back. I’m a very blessed individual.”
When asked about his hamstring, Branch just smiled.
“I’m feeling OK, I feel good,” he said. “Everybody’s hurting. No one is 100 percent. It’s the NFL.”