FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)—Together again and winning again.
Tom Brady(notes) and Deion Branch(notes) hooked up for key completions, including a touchdown, like they did when the Patriots won their last two Super Bowls, and New England propelled itself back into the NFL elite with a 23-20 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
“Tom and I have been away for four years, and I honestly don’t feel we missed a beat,” said Branch, who was acquired from the Seattle Seahawks in a trade last Monday. “The biggest thing (is) I just wanted to win in my debut. … Had I had two or three catches and we won, I’d have been happy.”
He had nine, matching Randy Moss’(notes) total in his four games this season before the Patriots (4-1) traded him to the Minnesota Vikings five days before they acquired Branch.
And seven of Branch’s catches came after the Ravens (4-2) took a 20-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“He can get open and catch the ball,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Don’t make it too complicated.”
The Patriots drafted Branch in the second round in 2002 then traded him to Seattle one day after their season opener in 2006. Branch had sat out that game and all of training camp in a contract dispute after he led the team with 78 catches in 2005.
But when Moss was traded, the Patriots needed a dependable receiver who could contribute quickly so they sent a fourth-round pick to the Seahawks for Branch.
“I’ve been throwing balls to him for a long time,” Brady said. “That chemistry is there, and it will be there.”
Branch gained 23 and 10 yards on two receptions, setting upStephen Gostkowski’s(notes) 35-yard field goal with 1:56 left in overtime.
“It’s very rewarding to be the last person to touch the ball and walk off winners,” Gostkowski said.
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(notes) 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 linebackerRay Lewis(notes) said.
Branch’s first grab in the fourth quarter Sunday 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 drove 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.
“You can’t compare him to Randy, (Moss) is such a dynamic player,” Ravens cornerback Chris Carr(notes) said, “but Branch has proven he can win.”
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(notes).
Branch finished with 98 yards receiving.
“They went to the no-huddle” late in the game, Ravens safetyDawan Landry(notes) said. “They weren’t trying to take big shots (downfield). They kept moving the chains.”
Brady completed 27 of 44 passes for 292 yards and one touchdown. For the Ravens, Joe Flacco(notes) 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(notes)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(notes) then made it 17-7 when Flacco connected on a 5-yarder to Anquan Boldin(notes) that was set up by Carr’s interception.
Gostkowski’s 38-yard field goal and Cundiff’s 25-yarder left Baltimore with a 20-10 lead with 7 seconds gone in the fourth quarter.
Midway through the first half, Heap left the game after being hit on a helmet-to-helmet collision with safetyBrandon Meriweather(notes), 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(notes) left the game with a head injury.
Notes: Linebacker Jerod Mayo(notes) 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(notes), who had 7,846 in 53 games. … New England is 6-0 against Baltimore in the regular season.