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Belichick credits DT Branch for beefing up ‘D’

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Quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski are in the MVP conversation, but the New England Patriots have many overlooked assets that could push them to the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.

Coach Bill Belichick identified tackle Alan Branch as one of the difference-makers on his defense. Yes, that Alan Branch, a player who was not even on the roster until he signed Oct. 29.

He has become one of the top front seven performers for the Patriots, who visit the New York Jets on Sunday knowing that if they win out, they’ll stay home for the playoffs.

“Alan has done a good job,” said Belichick, who said Branch and Sealver Siliga have stablized the run defense. “He’s had some versatility. He’s got length, but he’s also got size. He’s very athletic, (he) runs five flat or whatever. He has good quickness and can move. So, he has the versatility to play some different spots and do some different things along the defensive front.”

Edge rusher Chandler Jones is also back to boost a defense that was a sieve against the Jets on third downs in the first meeting, going 9 of 16, and rushed for 211 yards.

“Yeah … killed us,” Belichick said Friday.

The Patriots will rotate defensive linemen through in Sunday’s game and show three-, four- and five-man fronts. Branch, 29, is 6-6, 315, and moves with suddenness.

“He’s a tough matchup on a lot of guys because of his length and because of his power. He’s learned quickly,” Belichick said. “I think technique-wise there are some things that we do that are probably a little different than some of the things that he’s done. But he learns quickly. He’s smart; he has a lot of experience. I’m glad we have him.”

New England is a top-1o defense going by points allowed, point differential, run defense and red-zone defense, but in the bottom half of the league on third downs, allowing opponents to convert 40 percent to first downs.

Siliga spent 11 weeks on short-term injured reserve after suffering a foot injury on Sept. 21.

“Branch is a big guy, Siliga is a big guy,” Belichick said. “Chandler’s more of an edge guy, but when you put them all together, it looks a little different than it did a few weeks ago.”


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