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Branch hits peak of Super feats

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
Published February 7, 2005

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JACKSONVILLE - Sunday may be a day of rest, but that's the day when Deion Branch goes to work.

And on Super Sunday, he gets real busy. Real busy.

The Patriots receiver turned short passes into long gains, simple plays into spectacular grabs. He made the Eagles safeties cringe and left their cornerbacks shaking downtrodden heads.

And when the confetti stopped falling, when the hooting and hollering had quieted, when the Patriots had wrapped up their third Super Bowl title in four years, Branch's efforts made all the difference in a 24-21 victory over the Eagles.

He was named the game MVP.

"I'm going to do whatever it takes to help my team win," Branch said. "This is a football player's dream. I guess they say big-time players come up big in big-time games."

In another superb performance in a big game, Branch helped the Patriots move the chains and finished with 11 catches for 133 yards.

"Deion has been a good receiver for us all year and he was more so today," coach Bill Belichick said. "He was even more so today."

This should be no surprise to the Eagles. Branch, a third-year player out of Louisville, has made a mockery of defenses in high-profile games.

One year ago against the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, Branch had 10 catches for 142 yards and a touchdown as the Patriots won 32-29.

In the 2004 season opener, he had seven catches for 86 yards in a 27-24 win over the Colts. And after sitting out seven games with an injury, Branch delivered a six-catch, 105-yard performance in a Monday night win over the Chiefs.

Then, when the Patriots fell 29-28 in Miami, Branch responded with eight catches for 82 yards and a touchdown in a 23-7 win against the Jets.

Two weeks ago, Branch, who was told in high school he was too small to play football, stunned the Steelers by executing the deep ball and shredding the league's best defense for 116 yards on four catches with a 60-yard touchdown and another 45-yard reception.

"He's so quick, he's so fast, it's hard for anybody to stay with this guy," Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest said. "I don't know how people don't know about this guy. I really don't know. But all he does is come up big in Super Bowls. He's the best-kept secret in the NFL. If they don't want to pay attention to him, he's going to keep killing them. He's going to keep making yards and scoring touchdowns."

Against the Eagles, Branch had only one catch over 20 yards, a 27-yarder in the third quarter that was part of a nine-play, 69-yard touchdown drive. But he consistently came up with reception after reception, yard after yard, that helped move the chains.

"They did a good job of getting him in the open zone and sitting him down on some crossing patterns," Eagles safety Brian Dawkins said. "There were some misses that we had. They adjusted a little bit, and they we adjusted back, but by that time the damage had been done."

"The coaches give me the opportunity to make plays and I have to cash in on those," Branch said. "But we had a bunch of guys who stepped up tonight and make plays."

[Last modified February 7, 2005, 01:45:08]

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