Patriots Notebook

Branch gets a little pushy on touchdown play

By Michael Whitmer and Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / January 15, 2012
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Deion Branch only had four passes thrown his way against the Broncos last night and caught three. One stands out, and will for a while. A 61-yard touchdown pass.

Branch ran a fade route down the sideline as the first-half play clock neared the two-minute warning. He felt the Broncos defender deftly tug at his hair, but he still pulled the pass in from Tom Brady. He may have gotten away with the smallest shove to create some separation. Call it a crafty veteran’s move.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,’’ Branch said, laughing. “Hey, guys get away with holding all the time. I didn’t push him, though.’’

Branch finished with 85 yards on the three catches. He was part of an offense that toyed with the Broncos, showing how explosive they can be.

None of it surprised Branch.

“The vibe was in the building all week,’’ Brady said. “Everything starts with coach [Bill] Belichick. Our playoffs started last week, in practice. We had two weeks to prepare, and I think we did a pretty good job.’’

Mankins returns

Though his chat with reporters Thursday didn’t engender much confidence in his availability for last night’s game, Patriots left tackle Logan Mankins started against the Broncos.

Mankins, who suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament against the Dolphins Christmas Eve, missed the regular-season finale against the Bills. It was the first time in his seven-year career he missed a game because of injury.

Mankins was hurt in the first quarter against Miami when he made his first career start at left tackle in place of Matt Light, who was a late scratch because of an ankle injury. Mankins sat out practice for two weeks, but returned Tuesday.

When he met with reporters, Mankins said he was “day to day’’ and had a noticeable limp as he walked off the podium.

Safety Patrick Chung also was active. Chung was on the injury report Wednesday with a foot injury that caused him to miss seven games, then removed Thursday, and re-added Friday with a knee issue.

Kevin Faulk, who likely will retire at the end of the season, was active as well; he was a healthy scratch against the Bills.

As for the New England inactives, the list included Gary Guyton, Nate Jones, Ron Brace, Donald Thomas, and Ryan Mallett, all of whom were healthy scratches. It is the second time Guyton has been benched this season. Shane Vereen (hamstring) and Sebastian Vollmer (foot/back) completed the list.

Special remembrance

As players walked into the locker room last night, they were greeted by the large “MHK’’ painting the players presented to owner Robert Kraft a couple of weeks ago in honor of his late wife, Myra Hiatt Kraft. The painting shows the hands of players in a huddle pointing skyward, with the MHK symbol the players have worn on their jerseys all season.

Though the team gave Kraft the painting after the win over Miami, Devin McCourty said Myra Kraft hasn’t been far from the team’s consciousness all season.

“I don’t think it’s just after these games; that’s been all season, with what Mr. Kraft went through, and we know she was a big part of this organization,’’ McCourty said. “She’s been on our jerseys, she’s been in our hearts this whole season.”

Myra Kraft died July 20 after a long battle with cancer.

Silent partner

Patriots offensive assistant Josh McDaniels was in the coaches’ box for last night.

Though McDaniels may have had a role behind the scenes this week as the Patriots prepared for the Broncos, a team source said that in the meeting rooms, McDaniels was strictly an observer. Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien ran the show.

After a bit of outcry about New England signing McDaniels last week - he was with the Rams during the regular season - ESPN reported yesterday that the NFL may look into closing the so-called “McDaniels loophole’’ in the upcoming league meetings, so teams cannot add coaches fired or made available before the playoffs are over.

True perspective

On the sideline before the game, Denver quarterback Tim Tebow met with 20-year old Zack McLeod of Cambridge, who suffered a brain injury while playing football three years ago. Tebow meets with a young person with a medical hardship before each game through his foundation’s W15H program.

During his postgame press conference, after his season came to an end at the hands of the Patriots, Tebow showed some perspective. “It was still a good day,’’ he said. “I got to spend time with Zack McLeod and make him smile. I got to make a kid’s day.’’

In elite company

Belichick now has 16 career postseason wins, tying him with Chuck Noll for fourth in league history. Tom Landry is tops with 20 with the Cowboys . . . Brady’s six touchdown passes allowed him to make a giant leap up the career postseason touchdowns list: He now has 36, third all-time behind his boyhood idol, Joe Montana (45), and Brett Favre (44). Brady began the night tied with Terry Bradshaw in sixth place . . . Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer was the only Patriot not to get into the game . . . Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, wearing a Rob Gronkowski jersey, sang a rousing rendition of the national anthem . . . Rocker Jon Bon Jovi and Senator John Kerry were among the fans at the game.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at

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