Branch Leads The Patriots To Victory

WR Deion Branch (AP Photo)

Randy Moss may be finding success now that he's in Minnesota, but he didn't leave the Patriots without options. Filling Moss' shoes -- and coincidentally wearing the same jersey number Moss is wearing in Minnesota (84) -- Deion Branch led the Patriots WR corps with 9 catches for 98 yards and TD in New England's 23-20 OT victory over the Ravens.

In the first game of the post-Randy Moss era in New England, a great deal of focus was on Tom Brady and the remaining offense as the Patriots came out of the bye against the Ravens.

After nearly five full quarters of action against a top-rated Ravens defense the results were somewhat mixed but ultimately victoriously successful. That's all that anyone in New England cares about.

The Brady-to-Deion Branch connection looked like it hadn't missed a beat as the pair connected on nine catches for 98 yards and a score to come back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to pull out the eventual overtime victory. Less than a week after New England's former second-round pick rejoined the team in a trade from the Seahawks, Branch seemingly slid pretty easily into the No. 1 receiver slot. It's a slot he held once before, before Moss ever did.

"I'm used to being in this situation with this team and that guy," Branch said. "I don't want to talk about the past, but I haven't felt this way in four years. It's kind of crazy. I truly feel like when we got the ball on that last drive we knew we were going to go down and get some points and win this game. That's the feeling we had. That's how the guys took the field. I truly haven't had this feeling in a long time."

But even Branch knows the winning opening act of his second tour in New England wasn't as good as it will need to be at some point.

"I think we did OK. But we're a whole lot better than that," Branch said of the 23-point effort.

The Patriots passed the first test of the post-Moss era, admittedly a tough one against a Ravens team that many think could vie for a Super Bowl berth. But it gets no easier this coming weekend in San Diego and everyone in the New England locker room knows it.

"I think there is a sign when you come in the door that says 'mental toughness,' and that's doing what you've got to do for your team," Brady said of the comeback win over Baltimore that improved the Patriots to 4-1 on the season. "I think that was on display (against the Ravens) and is something that we can really build on and hopefully go out and play better next weekend in San Diego."

LINEUP WATCH: With running back Fred Taylor having missed two games in a row with a toe injury, BenJarvus Green-Ellis has slid right into New England's lead back role in recent weeks. After Taylor led New England with 14 rushes on opening day, Green-Ellis has had at least 10 carries in each of the last four weeks.

TRENDING: Brady and the Patriots are going through a transition on offense in the post-Moss era. Making things more difficult is the fact that, based on rankings through Week 5, Sunday's game against the Ravens was the Patriots second in a four-game stretch against top-10 NFL defenses. It began before the bye and the Moss trade, in Miami, continued with Baltimore, and continues along to upcoming meetings with the Chargers and Vikings.

PLAYER NOTES

Gostkowski's Game winner gets Brady Amped Up (AP Photo)
--TE Alge Crumpler was added to New England's roster of team captains prior to the Ravens game. The veteran tight end has drawn universal rave reviews in his first season in New England. He joins a group of captains that also includes Tom Brady, Kevin Faulk (now on injured reserve), Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo.

--WR Randy Moss has already been a Viking for two weeks, but interestingly he was the featured player photo on tickets for Sunday afternoon's hosting of the Ravens at Gillette Stadium.

--PK Stephen Gostkowski notched his first career regular-season game-winning kick with the 35-yarder to beat the Ravens in overtime. The fifth-year former All-Pro hit all three of his kicks in the win, including a 25-yard attempt to tie the game in the fourth quarter.

--RB Fred Taylor (toe) missed his second straight game when he was listed at out on the Friday injury report prior to the meeting with the Ravens.

--S James Sanders (hamstring) popped up on the injury report during practice last week and missed his first game of the year against Baltimore. The rest of New England's inactives included WR Taylor Price, CB Terrence Wheatley, RB Thomas Clayton, OL Rich Ohrnberger, T Mark LeVoir and DL Kyle Love.

--WR Deion Branch earned the starting nod in his return to New England, with Tom Brady throwing incomplete in his direction on the opening play. Branch caught his first pass on the second play of the second series and finished with nine catches for 98 yards and a touchdown in the first game of his second tour of duty with the Patriots.


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