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Patriots DT Alan Branch rebounds from healthy scratch

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When New England Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch was a healthy scratch for the team's Oct. 5 road victory over the Buccaneers, it was a similar situation to what unfolded last season with defensive end Jabaal Sheard. The question was if Branch would respond in the same way Sheard did.

He did.

Branch played 22 of 76 defensive snaps against the Jets as the No. 3 option on the depth chart behind Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy and made several positive plays. Run defense was one of the highlights of the Patriots' win, as the Jets were limited to 74 yards on 24 carries (3.1 average). They were forced to throw it at the goal line after being stuffed on two runs.

Branch was right in the middle of it.

"I thought Alan gave us some good quality plays. He had some pocket push up the middle that didn't necessarily result in him hitting the quarterback, but I think it created some space for some other players to attack the pocket. And I thought he gave us some solid plays in the running game," coach Bill Belichick said in his weekly appearance on sports radio WEEI's "Dale and Holley Show with Keefe."

In a coincidence, when Sheard returned to the lineup last year, it was also in a road victory over the Jets. Sheard, who went on to become an important part of a rotation with Rob Ninkovich, Trey Flowers and Chris Long en route to a Super Bowl championship, played 25 of 57 snaps in that game.

Following Sunday's victory, Branch told NBC Sports Boston, "I was really anxious. I just wanted to be out there. No one plays the game not to play. It felt good to be out there. I was just waiting for my opportunity, and I'm glad I got that opportunity."

Back on track, Branch and the Patriots' run defense now sets its sights on the Falcons and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in Sunday night's Super Bowl LI rematch.