FOXBORO - Deion Branch said Thursday that he understands the dynamic that has made this season a rollercoaster ride for him.
"Every situation is different," the Patriots' wide receiver said. "It's part of the business. You understand certain things, and this is what happened. But at the same time, you know what your goals are. I know what's important for the team."
Branch is in his 11th NFL season and his seventh with the Patriots, but this one has been interrupted frequently. He was released Aug. 31 as part of the final preseason cut, re-signed on Sept. 19, released again on Nov. 17 and re-signed Wednesday after another last-cut victim and returnee, Donte Stallworth, was placed on injured reserve after suffering an ankle injury on his only catch of Monday night's game.
"Everything happens for a reason, and I think when guys will be patient and stuff will happen for them," Branch said. "I'm a patient guy and unfortunately, I wish my guy was healthy. Nobody holds back for anybody, especially Donte. He's one of my guys. We came in the draft class together."
Branch said it helped him to accept his on-again, off-again fate because Patriots' coach Bill Belichick was completely honest with him.
"We sit down every time on things like this, and whether it's me or someone else, Coach Belichick and this organization are straightforward," he said. "He lets you know what's what. Everything is better when you're straightforward with guys. I think he does a great job of that."
Branch made nine catches for 80 yards in seven games (three starts) before being released. He said the hamstring that was injured before he was released feels "fine," and that he expects to step in as if there was no interruption.
"I'm stepping in as if I never left," he said. "I'm here to do just whatever Josh (McDaniels, offensive coordinator) needs me to do, whatever Tom (Brady) needs me to do in the offense. Whatever the team needs me to do, that's my job. That's what I've got to do and that's what I'm going to do."
He said it was a little strange to be watching the games from home, but he also realized how well he understood the Patriots' game plans and how he was able to predict how they would attack their opponents.
"I was talking to Tom about that," he said. "You know, you realize how much you miss the game when you're down and you're away from it. But at the same time, you really realize how good of a team we have. I understand what's going on when I'm watching plays and stuff. We still have a lot of work to do. I can still see the plays that we're messing up on. But at the same time, you see what we're doing as a plan, and it was fascinating."
Branch said the Patriots appear to be executing their offense at a very high level.
"Tom pretty much dictates everything," he said. "But I can see the way from the plays I remember, other than the ones that they put in that were new. Some of the things I was looking at, I could see what I think his reads are."
Branch said he expected to return to the Patriots, although he almost seemed a little relieved to learn that his nameplate had been in place the entire time and his locker remained untouched.
"Yeah, I expected that, but anything can happen," he said. "The team had to do what's best for them at the time. We had suffered a couple of injuries and we had to bring guys in. Everything happens for a reason and it works out. I think in this case it worked out the right way."
At 33, Branch knows his NFL career may not have much longer left in it. If that's the case, he said he wants to be a Patriot when that time comes.
"This is where I want to be," he said. "Someone else may be different, I can only speak for myself, but this is where I want to be, this is where I want to retire. That kind of makes everything else a lot more easy.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you I'm playing 10 more years, that's another thing," he said. "You ask a younger guy, that may be different. But myself? This is where I want to be"
And, he said he'd be thankful for every minute he has.
"I think we all need to be grateful and thankful just to play the game that we play," he said. "And trust me, I'm one of the guys that's very thankful. I seize every moment that I get. Like I said, I'm just glad I'm back."