Four years after leaving the Patriots, Deion Branch felt like, and played like, he’d never been gone.
New England reacquired Tom Brady’s old reliable receiver five days after trading Randy Moss, and with less than a week of practice, Branch sparked a comeback from a 10-point deficit to a 23-20 overtime win Sunday over the Baltimore Ravens.
He capped that with two key catches that set up Stephen Gostkowski’s 35-yard field goal with 1:56 left in overtime.
”Tom and I have been away for four years and I honestly don’t feel we missed a beat,” Branch said.
He had seven receptions after the Ravens (4-2) took a 20-10 lead three seconds into the fourth quarter and finished with nine, the most he had in a regular-season game since catching 13 against San Diego as a rookie in 2002 after the Patriots drafted him in the second round.
”We’ve known each other for a long time, so I think the chemistry’s there,” Brady said. ”It will be there.”
The Patriots (4-1) won their eighth straight game after a bye. The Ravens’ three-game winning streak came to an end.
When Moss was traded to Minnesota on Oct. 6, fans worried that the Patriots would struggle without their only deep threat. But Branch gave them plenty of reasons to forget those concerns and the team’s embarrassing 33-14 playoff loss to the Ravens in the first round last season.
”You can’t compare him to Randy, (Moss) is such a dynamic player,” Ravens cornerback Chris Carr said, ”but Branch has proven he can win.”
Branch was MVP of the 2005 Super Bowl when he caught 11 passes for 133 yards. But he was in his fourth year with Seattle when the Patriots were dominated in last season’s playoffs. They gave up Ray Rice’s 83-yard touchdown run on the game’s first offensive play and trailed the Ravens 24-0 after the first quarter.
”If we see them in the playoffs we will be ready again,” Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis said.
Branch’s nine catches matched Moss’ total in his four games with New England this season.
”Not perfect, but he did a lot of good, like he always did,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ”He got open and caught some balls. Let’s not make it too complicated.”
Branch’s first grab in the fourth quarter was a 5-yard touchdown four minutes into the period, cutting the lead to 20-17. The Patriots then forced the Ravens to punt and marched from their 14-yard line to a third down at the Baltimore 3 — with the help of four catches by Branch — and settled for Gostkowski’s 24-yard tying field goal with 1:51 left in the fourth quarter.
”I’m used to being in the situation in this game with (Brady),” Branch said. ”I haven’t felt this way in four years.”
In overtime, the Ravens punted three times and the Patriots punted twice. The winning drive started at the New England 38 and Brady immediately went to Branch for a 23-yard gain on the first play. A 10-yard completion to Branch produced a first down at the Ravens 21 and Gostkowski kicked the winning field goal after two runs by BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
”It’s very rewarding to be the last person to touch the ball and walk off winners,” Gostkowski said.
Branch finished with 98 yards receiving.
”He’s going to give you his all and run great routes and be in the right spot,” Wes Welker said. ”He’s a very accountable guy.”
Brady completed 27 of 44 passes for 292 yards and one touchdown. For the Ravens, Joe Flacco completed 27 of 35 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns.
”It’s tough when you think you have the game won,” Flacco said.
Baltimore scored on its opening drive, as it did in the playoff game, but needed 15 plays before Billy Cundiff kicked a 26-yard field goal. After the teams exchanged punts, Green-Ellis put New England ahead with a 2-yard touchdown run.
The Ravens took a 10-7 halftime lead after Flacco’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Todd Heap then made it 17-7 when Flacco connected on a 5-yarder to Anquan Boldin that was set up by Carr’s interception.
Field goals Gostkowski of 38 yards and Cundiff of 25 yards left Baltimore with a 20-10 lead with seven seconds gone in the fourth quarter.
Then the Patriots charged back.
”They went to the no-huddle,” Ravens safety Dawan Landry said. ”They weren’t trying to take big shots (downfield). They kept moving the chains.”
Midway through the first half, Heap left the game after being hit on a helmet-to-helmet collision with safety Brandon Meriweather, who was penalized. Heap lay on the ground for several minutes, left the game but returned before intermission.
In the second half, Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman left the game with a head injury.
Notes: Linebacker Jerod Mayo led the Patriots with 18 tackles. Lewis had nine for the Ravens. … Flacco set a Ravens franchise record for career yards passing with 7,985 in his 38th game, passing Kyle Boller, who had 7,846 in 53 games. … New England is 6-0 against Baltimore in the regular season.