Comeback route is run
Branch (6 catches) crucial to victory
PHILADELPHIA - If you were to make a graph of Deion Branch’s output this season, it would start high, dip low, rise again, and then show an extended down period.
Despite showing up on the injury report as questionable (hip), Branch was back to being a key part of the Patriots attack, with six catches for a team-high 125 yards in the 38-20 win over the Eagles.
The bulk of those yards came on a pretty 63-yard catch and run. When it looked as if he was going to be forced out of bounds at the 15-yard line, Branch cut back toward the middle of the field and nearly got the touchdown, tackled at the 1.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored on the next play.
“[Branch] had a comeback route, he ran it, and I scrambled up, and he kind of stepped up and then wheeled inside and the [defensive back] lost him,’’ said quarterback Tom Brady. “I just tried to jam it in there to him. He caught it and he did the rest . . . That was a huge play in the game.’’
Branch, meanwhile, credited Brady and the offensive line. Brady, Branch, and Wes Welker took advantage of an Eagles secondary that had its share of issues. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (ankle) didn’t play, and fellow cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was active despite a knee injury suffered Thursday, though he was limited.
“We attacked,’’ said Branch. “We knew exactly what their weaknesses were.’’
Welker had eight receptions for 115 yards, adding to his league-leading totals in both categories. He now has 82 catches for 1,143 yards.
Welker added two touchdowns, the first of which was a 41-yard highlight.
“He said before the play, ‘If I get this certain look then I’m going to fake like I’m running the in-cut and then run the post,’ and he did it and came to the sideline and said, ‘I told you! I told you!’ ’’ Brady said. “So, that was pretty funny. It’s nice when they work out kind of like how you talk about it.
“Wes is so consistent and reliable. He’s a phenomenal player.’’
Welker had his sixth 100-yard receiving game of the season, while Branch enjoyed his second.
It’s a snap
With Dan Connolly out because of a groin injury, Ryan Wendell started at center.
“I thought he did a good job, no fumbled snaps,’’ said left guard Logan Mankins. “We have complete confidence in Ryan. We know he can do it.’’
Rob Gronkowski caught his 11th touchdown pass of the season, inching closer to the NFL record for a tight end in a season.
The record is 13, by Antonio Gates of the Chargers in 2004 and Vernon Davis of the 49ers in 2009.
Gronkowski and fellow second-year tight end Aaron Hernandez have combined for 16 touchdown catches this season, which is more than half of Brady’s 28 TD passes.
Gronkowski said being in a quiet stadium on the road late in the game is a great feeling.
“It’s great when the only ones left in the stands cheering are New England fans,’’ he said. “Especially when there’s eight minutes left.’’
With Chad Ochocinco (hamstring) out, many assumed Taylor Price finally would get his chance to be more involved in the offense.
Instead, it was Tiquan Underwood, whom Brady targeted once in the second quarter with a deep pass. But it fell through Underwood’s hands.
Even Brady took advantage of the Eagles’ shoddy run defense, carrying six times for 27 yards, his most since he collected 31 yards on 10 carries against Jacksonville Dec. 24, 2006.
“That’s a rarity,’’ Brady said. “There was just a few times where I felt it opened up in the middle and I just took off. I’m not moving very fast, they’re converging pretty quickly, so I just got down there as fast as I could.’’
In fact, Brady was the Patriots’ second-leading rusher. Green-Ellis had 44 yards on 14 carries.
In a zone
Green-Ellis reached the end zone for the first time since Oct. 9 against the Jets, when he also had two touchdowns.
He now has seven touchdowns on the season.
Not this time
Listed as inactive for the Patriots were safety Patrick Chung (foot), cornerback Devin McCourty (shoulder), linebacker Dane Fletcher (thumb), linebacker Brandon Spikes (knee), Connolly, Ochocinco, and quarterback Ryan Mallett . . . Rookie Nate Solder stepped in at right tackle in the second half for Sebastian Vollmer, who injured his ankle . . . Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer saw his first action of the season with seven minutes left, but did not attempt a pass . . . Marcus Cannon picked up a few snaps at right tackle in the final minutes.