The wide receiver who never found success in Seattle is back at the scene of his prime, the Super Bowl.
Deion Branch is back at the scene of his prime.
The single most puzzling Seahawk of the Tim Ruskell era has returned not just to the Patriots, but to the Super Bowl. He has played in this game twice before, caught a total of 21 passes, grabbed an MVP award in February 2005 and caught the league’s attention.
His playoff performances were a big reason Seattle acquired him, smitten with a belief that he would be the team’s mainstay at receiver. Ruskell, who was then the Seahawks’ president, was so certain of this that Seattle not only offered Branch the six-year, $39 million contract that the Patriots wouldn’t, but traded away a first-round pick for the privilege of paying Branch.
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“This is a known commodity that we know fits our system,” Ruskell said Sept. 11, 2006, the day Seattle acquired Branch.
Instead Branch became Seattle’s square peg, his contract an ever-widening hole. When he was traded to New England four games into last season, the surprise wasn’t that he was gone, but that Seattle actually managed to get a fourth-round pick for him.
The Seahawks whiffed. That happens in the NFL sometimes, and Branch is hardly the first player to have difficulty translating success from one team to another. The truly perplexing part is Branch’s renaissance. When he returned to the Patriots last season at age 31, it was like he had never left.
Branch has played 25 regular-season games with New England since returning to the Patriots in October 2010. He has caught seven or more passes in seven of those games. He caught seven or more passes only four times in his 51 games as a Seahawk.
This would be easier to explain if Branch were a malcontent in Seattle, someone who was antagonistic toward teammates or didn’t take his profession or playbook seriously. That wasn’t the case, though. Throughout his tenure, he was a consummate professional dealing with coaches, teammates or reporters. He was popular among the other wide receivers.
His biggest problem was staying healthy. He was a one-man anatomy lesson of lower-body suffering. He missed time because of injuries to his foot (four games in 2007), calf (one regular-season game and a playoff game in 2007), knee (three games in 2008) and heel (five games in 2008).
But even when healthy, Branch was never as productive in Seattle as he was as a Patriot, and that statement has become even truer since he returned to New England.
Maybe it speaks to the power of rapport. It’s obvious that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has a comfort level with Branch that Matt Hasselbeck never found. Could be that old grump of a coach, Bill Belichick, has some formula for bringing the best out of Branch. Or perhaps there was just bad juju for Branch in Seattle.
He never really fit in Seattle. Not when he was acquired by Ruskell and handed over to coach Mike Holmgren. And Branch didn’t exactly blossom after Holmgren left, either. He played parts of five seasons with Seattle under three coaches with three offensive coordinators, and he never became the star that was expected.
To call Branch a bust is an overstatement. He caught 53 passes in 14 games after joining the Seahawks in 2006. He caught four TD passes in each of his first three seasons as a Seahawk, but his receiving totals declined each season.
If Steve Hutchinson’s departure was the biggest mistake in Ruskell’s five years as Seahawks president, then Branch may have been his least popular addition.
That reality stands in stark contrast to where the wide receiver stands now. Branch is back not just in New England, but he’s back in the Super Bowl and ready to start in the game where he first made a name for himself.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @dannyoneil.
|The most shocking thing about Deion Branch’s career isn’t that his productivity dipped when he left New England for Seattle, it’s how he resuscitated his career upon returning to the Patriots:|
|New England (2002-05)||53||213||2,744||12.8||14|
|New England (2010-present)||26||99||1,408||14.2||10|