FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Deion Branch can recall his second game back with the New England Patriots last season, following a four-year absence. It may be one he’d rather forget.

Despite pulling out a 23-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers, the Patriots were held to 179 yards of total offense, the team’s worst offensive output in its previous 134 games.

A franchise-record 622 yards in a win over Miami on Monday night, though, has Branch dismissing the past and focusing on Sunday, when the Patriots (1-0) host the Chargers (1-0) in his first home opener since 2004.

“We didn’t execute as properly as we wanted to. Hopefully this year, this week will be a different outcome,” Branch said Friday. “We’ve got to go out and execute, got to convert on third down; we’ve got to score in the red, the things that we didn’t do last year. Those are things that we’ve got to improve on this year.

“Last week is behind us; hopefully we can go out and do the same thing.”

After earning MVP honors in the 2005 Super Bowl, Branch spent four-plus seasons in Seattle before returning to New England. He was limited to four receptions and 39 yards by San Diego’s top-ranked defense in that game, part of the Patriots’ worst offensive performance since totaling 176 yards against Tennessee on Dec. 16, 2002.


Yet the Patriots fended off a furious fourth-quarter charge from San Diego, narrowly escaping when Kris Brown’s 50-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright with 23 seconds left.

New England Coach Bill Belichick said he expects a similar battle Sunday.

“The more you watch them, the more impressed you are,” he said. “It’s a good football team.”

New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, filling the void after Ron Rivera was hired as coach of the Carolina Panthers, inherits a veteran defense known for swarming to the ball. Much of the stout San Diego secondary remains intact from last season, too, led by free safety Eric Weddle, now in his fifth season in San Diego.

“Weddle’s a real instinctive player,” Belichick said. “He’s got good quickness but he’s really got a real good nose for the ball, he’s got a lot of savvy, does a nice job disguising coverages, reading the quarterback, he’s around the ball a lot.”

Weddle’s not the only hard-hitting safety who may pose potential for New England receivers. Bob Sanders, a former defensive player of the year with Indianapolis, was signed to a one-year deal by the Chargers this offseason.


And despite missing virtually all of last season with a torn biceps tendon and playing just nine games over the past three years, Sanders doesn’t look like someone who’s been out of the game, according to Branch.

“He don’t look like he missed (all those) games, I’ll promise you that,” Branch said. “It don’t seem like he missed all of last year.”

Belichick agreed.

“Sanders is the player we saw in Indianapolis,” he said. “He’s very instinctive, too. Kind of like a (Troy) Polamalu type of guy — lot of big hits in a game, lot of speed, gets to a lot of plays and then brings the wood when he gets there.”

Patriots receiver Wes Welker, fresh off a scintillating performance against the Dolphins when he hauled in a franchise-record 99-yard, catch-and-run touchdown, is cognizant of what Sanders brings to a defense.

“You see him flying around and out there making plays, running around and doing kind of what he does,” said Welker, who was held to four catches and 25 yards against San Diego last season. “We’ve got to make sure we stay aggressive with him and stay on top of him and try to take advantage of it in some ways.”


Chad Ochocinco could help in that department. The often criticized receiver, who was traded to the Patriots in the offseason, declined to speak to the media this week after being publicly scrutinized by former New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi for his tweet about being awestruck by his team’s offensive performance in the opener.

While Bruschi supported his comments on SportsCenter on Thursday, Branch backed his teammate a day later.

“The thing is, when you’re in a different place, different things happen. You can’t focus on and worry about what others are saying,” Branch said.

“We’re just going out, doing our jobs, executing our plays and he’s doing a great job doing that.”


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