Stallworth to IR, Branch Returns (Again)

The Pats lose another wide receiver

Another week, another Patriots victory, and along with it, more questions about Tom Brady's would-be pass-catchers. One day after recently (re-)signed Donte Stallworth hauled in a 63-yard touchdown catch, the team placed him on injured reserve with an ankle injury. The Pats also released tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. Stallworth joins Edelman on IR, a move that forced New England to make another one: for the second time this season, they brought back Deion Branch.

"He gives us a good level of experience and knows our system, has played for us, and we have confidence in him," coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday.

Branch, who was originally released before the season but returned several weeks later, played in seven games this season and had nine receptions for 80 yards.

When Branch was first cut, Brady said this about the wide receiver that was originally the Pats' 2002 second-round pick. "Deion's a great friend of mine," he said at the time. "I love him, I love him as a brother, as a friend and as a teammate. I'm hoping everything always works out. He's just a great person."

And for now, things appear to have worked out for Branch -- and the Pats. As it stands, New England's depth chart at wide receiver looks like this: Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker as the starters with Matthew Slater and Branch behind them. And that's it. But there's also the tight ends -- Aaron Hernandez (who had eight catches for 58 yards and two TDs against the Texans), Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui, and lord willing, Rob Gronkowski, who is expected to practice this week after suffering a broken arm in the team's win over the Colts before Thanksgiving.

As it stands, the Pats are the AFC's No. 2 seed and a win on Sunday against the 49ers isn't critical to their long-term plans. But if they're angling for the conference's top spot and the homefield advantage throughout the playoffs that go with it, they'll want to win out and hope the Texans stumble over the next three weeks.

For now, Belichick and Brady are no doubt focused on one thing: San Francisco. And while Branch isn't the explosive player he once once, he's familiar with what the Pats want to do offensively, and that can't be overrated (see Chad Johnson, for example).

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