FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – One week into his second round of unemployment this season, Deion Branch had just picked his daughter up at school when she wondered why he had so much free time.

He broke the news to 7-year-old D’Ahni.

“She said, ‘Dad, what happened? Why aren’t you playing?”‘ the New England Patriots receiver said Thursday. “I said, ‘Baby, Daddy can’t play right now. I don’t have a job.’ And she said, ‘aw, you’ll get one.’ And I said, ‘I know, baby.’ “

It’s almost as if she had sat in during her father’s conversation with Coach Bill Belichick.

Perhaps Belichick told him he’d return at some point?

“I’ll keep that between us,” Branch said, one day after re-signing.

Branch was released Nov. 17 and missed the past four games. But the nameplate at his locker, “Deion Branch 84,” remained — just as it did for the first two games of the season after he was cut shortly before it began. He was back for Game 3.

Standing before the locker where a family photo was displayed on the top shelf and football gloves hung from a bar, the 11-year veteran said he wants to retire as a Patriot. He said he’ll do whatever the team needs from him, starting Sunday night when the Patriots (10-3), winners of seven straight, are home against the San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) in a meeting of Super Bowl contenders.

It’s been nearly seven years since Branch was named MVP of the Super Bowl after catching 11 passes in a 24-21 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“It was a long time ago,” he said, “but that stuff is in the past. It’s behind us. I think we all need to be grateful, be thankful just to play the game that we play. I’m thankful. I seize every moment that I get. I’m just glad to be back.”

The Patriots drafted him in 2002 and he led them with 78 catches, 998 yards receiving and five TD catches in 2005. But he was involved in a contract dispute and traded to the Seattle Seahawks after the first game in 2006. He remained there until being traded back to New England after the fourth game in 2010. He had 35 catches for the Pats that year and 51 last year.

The Patriots let him go again, this time as a free agent on March 13. But 17 days later he was back, signing a one-year contract. Before his latest release, Branch was bothered by a hamstring injury. He did rehabilitation and said he feels OK now. But would he have been re-signed if wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth hadn’t gone on injured reserve this week?

“I don’t know,” he said. “Everything happens for a reason and with guys that are patient, stuff happens. I’m a patient guy.”

The Patriots signed Stallworth after receiver Julian Edelman went on injured reserve Dec. 4. Belichick might have brought Branch back even if Stallworth were healthy. But he was hurt on a 63-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady, his only catch in his only game of the season.

Now he’s the one rehabbing.

“There’s no rush, so I want to make sure that I get it back right,” Stallworth said.

On Thursday, Branch returned to work as if, it almost seemed, he had never left.

“Nothing’s changed,” he said. “All the guys just walked past my locker like nothing ever happened, so I didn’t get any hugs, just ‘Hey, how you doing? What’s up?’ “

With or without Branch, the Patriots have kept winning throughout the past decade.

“This is where I want to be. This is where I want to retire,” he said. “So that kind of makes everything a lot easier.”