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Originally published January 8, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 8, 2008 at 12:05 AM

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Hawks Notebook | Branch expected to return

If you see No. 18 and No. 83 lined up at receiver for the Seahawks on Saturday, it's OK. Don't rub your eyes in disbelief. D. J. Hackett and Deion Branch...

Seattle Times staff reporter

KIRKLAND — If you see No. 18 and No. 83 lined up at receiver for the Seahawks on Saturday, it's OK. Don't rub your eyes in disbelief.

D.J. Hackett and Deion Branch have appeared in only 2 ½ games together this season, even though they were the starting receivers when the regular season began.

Injuries have kept the two apart for most of the season. Branch is the latest to be dealing with one — a strained calf that kept him out of last week's game and the regular-season finale, plus the practices leading up to those games. But he is expected to play Saturday at Green Bay in the divisional playoff round, coach Mike Holmgren said Monday.

"I think Branch is going to be able to practice some," Holmgren said. "His quickness and his hands, he's an excellent receiver. He's our starting flanker. So when he comes back, you get a real high-caliber player back in your lineup."

And a playoff-tested one. Branch has played in 10 postseason games in his six-year career, including two Super Bowls with New England. The 10 appearances are tied for second-most among current Seahawks players.

Hackett sprained an ankle in the first game of the season and missed the next six games.

Branch missed games six through nine with a mid-foot sprain, then strained his right calf in practice before the Atlanta contest.

Hackett aggravated his ankle injury on Nov. 25 and missed the next four games before returning for the Atlanta game.

But the Seahawks have hardly missed a beat. Bobby Engram, be it as a starter or slot receiver, caught 94 passes for 1,147 yards in what was a career year for the veteran. Nate Burleson had 50 catches for 694 yards and led the team with nine receiving touchdowns. Hackett had two 100-yard games in the six he played during the regular season, and on Saturday caught six passes for 101 yards, including what was the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"To have all four of them [Branch, Burleson, Hackett and Engram] active at one time would be pretty special," Holmgren said. "When we put that out there, we have the ability to be fairly potent in the passing game ... I'm hopeful."

Branch had hoped to play Saturday and said as much two days before the game. But he didn't show enough progress in healing, and wasn't able to run well enough to allow him to be active for the game.

"He couldn't play the game the way he has to play the game," Holmgren said. "He's not the biggest guy in the world, Deion, and his quickness and speed must be a part of his game. No one could tell me he could last, so if he's up [active] and he goes like he plays the game and he hurts himself, now I'm really short for the rest of the game. And I wasn't willing to take that chance."

Team doctors are more optimistic about Branch's durability this week. The Seahawks can certainly use him in a big game like this, even though Hackett and Burleson made some huge plays last week to contribute to the win.

Notes

• The training room at team headquarters was teeming with players nursing all sort of bumps and bruises Sunday and Monday. Although Holmgren will likely limit some in practice this week, all on the active roster are expected to be available to play in the game. That includes QB Matt Hasselbeck, who has a thigh bruise after a hard landing from being upended by Washington's Fred Smoot in the third quarter Saturday.

"It's sore," Holmgren said.

• In review of the game film, Holmgren said P Ryan Plackemeier had his best game of the season last week. Plackemeier had four fair-catch or downed punts inside the 15-yard line.

• DE Patrick Kerney got four votes for Associated Press NFL defensive player of the year. The honor went to Bob Sanders of the Indianapolis Colts. Kerney tied for second in the voting. He had 14 ½ sacks to lead the NFC.

"That sack total is hugely important," Holmgren said. "People really have to pay attention to him."

• In the divisional round, the home team has won eight of the past 10 games in the NFC playoffs. The Chicago Bears defeated the Seahawks last January in a divisional playoff game at Soldier Field. "The first-round bye in the playoffs is something that's very, very important, historically," Holmgren said. "That's what you play the regular season for, that one thing. ... It kind of gets you going. It kind of gets the juices flowing a little bit to say, 'OK, here's what we're up against now, let's see what we can do.' "

• If the Seahawks win and the New York Giants defeat Dallas in the other NFC divisional game, the NFC Championship Game will be Jan. 20 at Qwest Field.

José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or jromero@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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