FOXBORO — I have requested a new nickname for New England Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch, changing it from the dull "Cagey, dependable, veteran pass catcher."
This one has more pizzazz.
Yeah, I know I sort of stole it from the original "Deion," Deion Sanders. But he's a has-been and he's now playing a fairy on DirecTV commercials selling the "NFL Sunday Ticket." The nickname, as far as I'm concerned, is now fair game.
Anyway, when you do something special, the way Branch did the last two weeks — 7 catches for 93 yards last Sunday and 8 catches for 129 yards yesterday — "cagey" and "dependable" doesn't cut it any more.
In fact, for those tapping their calculators at home, it is Branch's best two weeks of football, statistically, since late January and early February of 2005 when he combined for 15 catches and 149 yards in the Patriots wins over the Steelers in the AFC Championship and then the Eagles in the Super Bowl.
He caught a 60-yarder to open the scoring in Pittsburgh and his 11 catches and 133 yards in Jacksonville two weeks later copped him the Super Bowl MVP trophy.
Let's be honest, this is more than a tad surprising, considering he didn't garner one measly catch this past August.
It was presumed that Branch would collect a decent check in 2011, guaranteed to be about $2.2 million. He was supposed to be the understudy to Wes Welker, Chad Ochocinco and the dynamic duo at tight end, Ron Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Well, guess who Tom Brady hauled up to the podium, in Mike Eruzione-like fashion, with him for the first dual press conference of his Patriots career? Our very own "Prime Time."
"I've thrown a lot of passes to him over the years," said Brady, motioning to Branch, who was standing to his left. "There's nobody that I enjoy playing with more than this guy. It's always been that way. He's my locker-mate and one of my great friends."
Did anybody see this coming, at age 32?
Sure, he added some stability when he was brought back from the Seahawks after Randy Moss was sent packing last September, but this is exactly the guy who exemplified Prime Time during two key years during the Patriots dynasty in 2003 and 2004.
His first game back as a Patriot last Oct. 17, he hauled in nine passes for 98 yards and a score, something that didn't happen over four-plus uninspiring seasons in Seattle.
Branch took slight offense to a question about him being "re-invigorated" here on his second stint with the Patriots.
"Why do you say that?" asked Branch. "I'm the same guy. The opportunities maybe weren't there in Seattle, but hey, that's behind me. I'm very thankful they gave me the opportunity to come back here and play with the team that I started with."
Of course, Branch was dealt to Seattle at the start of the 2006 season over money — he signed a 6-year, $39 million deal, eventually getting about $36 million — and he was average at best.
Consider this: In two games in 2011, he already has converted 10 first downs. Over 22 games in 2008 and 2009 with the Seahawks, Branch only moved the chain 35 times.
The fact that Branch was here for a training camp, by Brady's side and locker stall, has apparently helped his cause.
"There were a lot of things I missed (from not being at) training camp last year that Tom was doing on the football field that they would have to tell me on the sidelines," said Branch. "The things I missed last year I was able to catch up on this year. I'm more comfortable in the huddle once I hear certain things ... that I couldn't do last year."
Branch looked as comfortable as he did in Jacksonville for the Super Bowl in 2005. In fact, Branch looked as comfortable as he did a year earlier in Houston when the Patriots nipped the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl in 2004, when he caught 10 passes for 143 yards and one TD.
At the end of his portion of the press conference — Brady left about five minutes earlier — Branch was asked if he knew how many yards his buddy had thrown for through two games.
He had no idea. When told it was 930 yards, Branch smiled and said, "I'm glad I'm here."
Trust me on this one, Prime Time. The feeling is mutual.