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Originally published January 30, 2012 at 10:00 PM | Page modified January 31, 2012 at 12:02 PM

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Patriots' perplexing Deion Branch back in Super Bowl

The wide receiver who never found success in Seattle is back at the scene of his prime, the Super Bowl.

Seattle Times NFL reporter

Branch through the years

April 20, 2002: Louisville receiver Deion Branch is drafted by New England with the last pick of the second round, No. 65 overall, the 11th receiver chosen.

Feb. 1, 2004: Branch catches 10 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots' Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers. It was only the second time Branch caught more than six passes in an NFL game. Quarterback Tom Brady was named the game's MVP.

Feb. 6, 2005: Branch matches a Super Bowl record with 11 receptions against Philadelphia, for 133 yards and a touchdown. He is named the game's MVP.

2005 season: Branch catches a career-high 78 passes for 998 yards during the regular season, and puts an exclamation point on it with eight catches for 153 yards in New England's playoff loss to Denver.

Sept. 11, 2006: Branch, who had held out of training camp, is traded to Seattle for a first-round pick, with the understanding the Seahawks will sign him to a six-year, $39 million contract with $13 million paid up front.

Nov. 19, 2006: Branch catches seven passes for 113 yards in a loss at San Francisco. It was one of only three 100-yard receiving games Branch had for the Seahawks. Seattle was 1-2 in those games.

April 28, 2007: The Patriots use the first-round pick acquired from Seattle — No. 24 overall — to pick safety Brandon Meriweather from Miami.

Jan. 12, 2008: Branch suffers a knee injury in the first half of Seattle's playoff loss at Green Bay. His recovery from the injury causes him to miss the first three games of the following regular season.

Oct. 11, 2010: Branch is traded by Seattle to New England for a fourth-round pick. The deal is made with the understanding Branch will renegotiate his contract to join the Patriots.

April 30, 2011: Seattle uses the fourth-round pick acquired from New England to choose linebacker K.J. Wright out of Mississippi State with the No. 99 overall pick.

Danny O'Neil

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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.

"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 doneil@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @dannyoneil.

Standing Pat
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:
Team (years) Games Catches Yards Avg. TDs
New England (2002-05) 53 213 2,744 12.8 14
Seattle (2006-10) 51 190 2,347 12.3 15
New England (2010-present) 26 99 1,408 14.2 10

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