FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP) - Deion Branch can recall his second game back with the New England Patriots last season following a four-year absence. It may be one he’d rather forget.
A franchise-record 622 yards in a win over Miami on Monday night, though, has Branch dismissing the past and focusing on Sunday, when the Patriots (1-0) host the Chargers (1-0) in his first home opener since 2004.
“We didn’t execute as properly as we wanted to. Hopefully this year, this week will be a different outcome,” Branch said Friday. “We’ve got to go out and execute, got to convert on third down, we got to score in the red, the things that we didn’t do last year. Those are things that we got to improve on this year.
“Last week is behind us, hopefully we can go out and do the same thing.”
After earning MVP honors in the 2005 Super Bowl, Branch spent four-plus seasons in Seattle before returning to New England last October. He was limited to four receptions and 39 yards by San Diego’s top-ranked defense in that game. It was just part of the Patriots‘ worst offensive performance since totaling 176 yards against Tennessee on Dec. 16, 2002.
Yet always unfazed by statistics, the Patriots were able to fend off a furious fourth-quarter charge from San Diego, narrowly escaping when Kris Brown’s 50-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright with 23 seconds left.
New England coach Bill Belichick expects a similar battle Sunday.
“The more you watch them, the more impressed you are,” he said. “It’s a good football team.”
New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, filling the void after Ron Rivera was hired as coach of the Carolina Panthers, inherits a veteran defense defined for swarming to the ball. Much of the stout San Diego secondary remains in tact from last season, too, led by free safety Eric Weddle, now in his fifth season in San Diego.
“Weddle’s a real instinctive player,” Belichick said. “He’s got good quickness, but he’s really got a real good nose for the ball, he’s got a lot of savvy, does a nice job disguising coverages, reading the quarterback, he’s around the ball a lot.”
Weddle’s not the only hard-hitting safety who may pose potential problems for New England receivers. A two-time Pro Bowler and former Defensive Player of the Year who spent seven seasons wreaking havoc on Indianapolis’ defense before injuries curtailed his time there, Bob Sanders was signed to a one-year deal by the Chargers this offseason.
And despite missing virtually all of last season with a torn biceps tendon, and playing merely nine games over the past three years, Sanders doesn’t look like someone who’s been out of the game, according to Branch.
“He don’t look like he missed ‘X’ amount of games, I’ll promise you that,” Branch said. “It don’t seem like he missed all of last year.”
Belichick appeared to agree.