Albany’s Branch: Pats have been overlooked all year

Albany native and Pats WR Deion Branch talks to reporters Friday about today’s AFC Championship game against the Ravens.

Albany native and Pats WR Deion Branch talks to reporters Friday about today’s AFC Championship game against the Ravens.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — As a reporter approached Patriots receiver Deion Branch at his locker this week, Branch was asked a question — “Do you feel you’ve earned the right to be the favorite (today) against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship?”

That elicited a response from the Albany native which showed just how chippie New England is about getting back to their first Super Bowl since 2007, when they lost in stunning fashion to the New York Giants.

“We’ve been the underdog all year. Just let it stay that way, we’ll be cool,” the Monroe alum and former Louisville star said to a reporter from ESPN’.com/Boston as he flashed his famous grin. “According to you guys, we’re not even supposed to be here. You know, this team wasn’t supposed to make it. We’re cool with that. I think the only folks we worry about is the guys in the locker room. We worry about our game plan and execution. We don’t worry about the rest of the stuff.

“(As for being favorites?) That’s my first time hearing it, you saying that, I promise you. My teammates, we don’t even go on ESPN, any sports channel — not to single out ESPN, but any sports channel. I think the guys in the locker room have one focus — and that’s taking care of business.”

The last time Branch was in this position in 2005, he definitely took care of business, tying a Super Bowl record with 11 catches for 133 yards as the Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21. Branch emerged as — still to this day — Albany’s only NFL MVP, while the win also brought Branch his second Super Bowl ring.

And now, after a long and winding road that led him back to New England last season after spending four years with the Seahawks, Branch wants another.

And he thinks the Patriots have just the team to do it.

“We all complement each other in this offense,” Branch told ESPN. “Everybody has a job, a role. Guys here are very unselfish. You won’t hear guys saying, ‘Throw me the ball, throw me the ball.’ That’s not how we operate our offense.”

Branch hasn’t been as big a part of the offense as he was in the past — thanks to the emergence of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and the NFL’s leading receiver, Wes Welker — but he’s gotten plenty of work in this year, catching 51 passes for 702 yards and five TDs, including a beauty last week in New England’s 45-10 romp against the Broncos in the divisional round. Branch hauled in a short pass from QB Tom Brady near the end of the first half, then outran the Denver defense 61 yards for the score.

Coach Bill Belichick still has loads of confidence in Branch’s abilities, even if he now is the team’s N. 4 receiver.

“Deion is a very instinctive receiver,” Belichick said Friday. “He was in college at Louisville and then from day one when he got here. He’s smart, he learns very quickly and he just understands the receiver concepts and techniques. He almost always does what the quarterback would expect him to do. He just has a good instinct and a good feel for what the right decision to make is based on what he’s seeing, and then, so that he can help the quarterback, (gets to) the spot where the quarterback wants him to be and when he wants him to be there.

“Deion has a great sense for that timing.”