BOSTON (CBS) – It was a big shock to see the headline “Colts Sign Deion Branch” on Monday, leading many Patriots fans to feel betrayed by the fan-favorite receiver.

But Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had nothing but praise for Branch on a conference call with Indianapolis reporters on Tuesday morning.

“Deion had a great career here,” Belichick said of the seven seasons Branch spent with New England. “Very smart, professional player. Great leader. One of the top guys we’ve had here in terms of off the field work ethic, leadership, intelligence, preparation, all those things. He had some very productive seasons here. He’s a tremendous person. He’s had a great career.”

Branch won two Super Bowls in his time with the Patriots, earning MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXIX after an 11-catch, 133-yard performance against the Philadelphia Eagles. He was traded to the Seattle Seahawks in 2006 following a contract dispute, but the Patriots traded back for the receiver early in the 2010 season. He caught 48 passes and five touchdowns in 11 games that season, and was brought back in 2011 and 2012, catching 66 passes and five scores.

But on Monday, after sitting out the regular season, Branch signed with Indy just five days ahead of their AFC divisional round playoff game against the Patriots.

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Branch isn’t the only former-Patriot currently sporting a horseshoe on his helmet. Super Bowl hero Adam Vinatieri has called Indianapolis his home for the last eight seasons after his right foot helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls, and Belichick isn’t surprised at the 41-year-old’s continued success in the NFL.

“When he was here, trained very hard in the offseason, was one of our hardest workers. He worked out with all the other position players and he was never really looked at as a kicker in terms of his offseason program and what he did as far as training, that kind of thing,” said Belichick. “He was a very well-conditioned athlete.”

“Mentally, he’s as tough and as consistent as they come,” Belichick continued. “I can’t think of anybody, certainly no other kicker, that I’ve coached that I would put ahead of him in terms of mental toughness, concentration, focus, professionalism, all of those things. He just did his job as well as he could possibly do it every day that I was here. I was here in ’96 when he came in as a rookie and then as the head coach when I came back. I have the utmost respect for Adam and the way he approaches his job, the way he does his job.”

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“It really seems like every year, you turn on the film and he’s making 50-yard field goals and kicking them right down the middle and doing the same things that he did 17, 18 years ago, however long it’s been since ’96. He’s a great player and a Hall of Fame kicker if there ever was one.”

Tune in to Patriots-Colts Saturday night on 98.5 The Sports Hub and WBZ-TV — the flagship stations of the New England Patriots. Pregame coverage begins on 98.5 at 5pm and on WBZ-TV at 7pm, with full postgame shows following the game.


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