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The more things change, the more Deion Branch stays the same

08.21.12 at 4:07 am ET
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Deion Branch had three catches Monday night against the Eagles. (AP)

FOXBORO — It’s the waning moments of a game between the Eagles and Patriots, presumably a matchup that holds a special place in Deion Branch‘s heart.

After all, it was eight years ago in Super Bowl XXXIX that Branch lit the Philadelphia secondary up to the tune of 11 catches for a total of 133 yards. On Monday night, Branch was at it again against the Eagles. And even though this was the second game of the Patriots preseason schedule, for Branch, none of this matters.

And he made as much clear in his post-game interview. He doesn’t care if he is catching passes from Brady, Ryan Mallett, or even Curtis Painter. We often hear how the Patriots want players who value the game of football not just as a job, but as a passion. Branch has always fulfilled that part of the job requirement. And as the 33-year-old spent an inordinate amount of time resting on the sidelines, and did not participate in the preseason opener against the Saints, he became increasingly excited to be back.

“It felt good,” Branch said smiling. “I was pretty excited to get back on the field. It’s not like riding the bike.”

Branch’s night was productive. He registered three catches for 51 yards in typical fashion: He ran a deep cut, broke from on a crossing pattern and picked up extra yards after the catch, and finally worked the sideline for a catch on his back shoulder in a timing pattern.

When asked if he thought he earned any separation from the other receivers vying for a job, just as Branch maintained his formed on the field, he displayed his deferential demeanor.

“I hope I did,” Branch said. “You have to ask coach if I made a statement. Nobody has made the team. Right now it’s all about me going out and doing what I have to do to make the team.”

And let’s face it, maybe part of doing what he has to do to make the team is fielding punts, but you can’t help but think about Branch’s resume. He is a Super Bowl MVP. He’s been there and back (and there again). He knows the system and, frankly, he’s probably overqualified to be fielding punts in the fourth quarter of a meaningless preseason game. Many players of his stature would complain or be beyond assignment. Branch, who is embroiled in a battle for a spot as a wide receiver, relishes the obligation.

“I didn’t get to [return a punt], man,” Branch said shaking his head in faux disappointment. “The one time he hit it pretty good, and the next he punted away from me. I don’t know why, I haven’t been back there in years.”

Branch was laughing, but he was also serious at the same time. When asked about competing for a job, he simply offered this:

“Every year you’re competing. It’s what makes this game special.”

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