- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 15, 2010

FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP) - Deion Branch has Randy Moss‘ old locker, starting spot and confidence from quarterback Tom Brady.

With all that, he didn’t come to the New England Patriots to be like Moss.

He’s been better.

“I’m not Randy,” Branch said Wednesday. “I’m just here to make my plays. The coaches are giving me the opportunities. I try to cash in on them.”

When the Patriots traded Moss to Minnesota after he had no catches in their fourth game, there were dire predictions for their offense. How would it succeed without a deep threat? Wouldn’t Wes Welker’s effectiveness plummet without Moss drawing double coverage?

Even when New England obtained Branch from the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 12, six days after the Moss deal, those questions lingered. Could a 5-foot-9 receiver actually make up for the loss of a 6-4 downfield target who had been named to six Pro Bowls?

The answers started coming right away.

In his first game with the Patriots, Branch caught nine passes _ the total Moss had in his four games with the team. In their current five-game winning streak, Branch caught seven passes in each of the first two games against Pittsburgh and Indianapolis and has scored at least one touchdown in each of the past three.

The last one was Moss-like _ a grab behind the cornerback along the left side that Branch turned into a 59-yard touchdown on the final play of the first half of a 36-7 win over the Chicago Bears. He finished that game with a career-high 151 yards receiving.

Two weeks earlier, he had a 79-yard touchdown in a 45-24 win over the Detroit Lions.

On Sunday, the Patriots (11-2) would clinch a first-round playoff bye if they beat the Green Bay Packers (8-5) and the New York Jets lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“The biggest challenge is always a guy with the speed of Randy,” Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said, “but (in) this offense, the harder receiver (to cover) is going to be a guy like Branch, a guy like Welker, those quick guys who get in and out of space very well, get in and out of their cuts very well. For what this team is doing, (Branch) is a better fit.”

When Branch was reunited with Brady, his teammate from 2002-06, he said he didn’t return to replace Moss. Now the MVP of the 2005 Super Bowl has made people almost forget about Moss.

“That’s not my job either,” Branch said. “My job is to go in and make the plays to help my team win. That’s all I want to do. That’s all I’m here for.”

In nine games with the Patriots, Branch has 44 catches. Moss has just 18 in four games with Minnesota and five with Tennessee after the Vikings released him.

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