INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts are getting some help from a former Patriot.
Six days before the two rivals meet in a divisional-round game, the Colts signed Deion Branch, the former New England receiver and Super Bowl MVP.
Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano pointed out Branch lives in nearby Carmel, works out at one of the city’s top training facilities and fills a need after Darrius Heyward-Bey injured a hamstring Saturday in the Colts’ 45-44 comeback victory over Kansas City. But Branch also brings something else to the locker room — deep knowledge of Bill Belichick’s playbook.
“You know it really didn’t sit there and factor in,” Pagano said Monday, downplaying the perceived intelligence coup. “Having had some time spent there, we figured that the questions were going to come up `If you’re signing this guy who spent time in New England, is it just a coincidence or do you need the guy to help you win a football game?’ We think we got a heck of a football player.”
Tom Brady might agree.
Earlier this season, he reportedly lobbied the team to re-sign Branch as the offense struggled with the losses of Wes Welker in free agency, Aaron Hernandez to legal trouble and Danny Amendola to Rob Gronkowski to injuries.
Instead, it was the injury-plagued Colts who signed Branch off the street.
What Indy gets is a 34-year-old veteran with two Super Bowl rings, who was the Super Bowl MVP in New England’s third title run. He also worked with backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck when the two were teammates in Seattle. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Branch has 518 receptions for 6,644 yards and 39 touchdowns in 140 regular-season games, most of those with Brady and the Patriots. Branch also has 64 receptions for 948 yards with four TDs in the postseason and tied Jerry Rice’s Super Bowl record for receptions with 11 in February 2005.
Pagano figured all that experience would help his young team get ready for what will be their biggest game of the season. Having a little inside information won’t hurt, either.
“Deion was one of those guys we worked out a couple weeks ago,” Pagano said. “He’s a proven guy and played at a high level for a long time. So him being right here in our backyard and with the injuries, it made sense to bring him on board at this point.”
Indy (12-5) has dealt with a rash of injuries this season, and Saturday’s game certainly didn’t help.
Starting cornerback Greg Toler was placed on injured reserve after aggravating the groin injury that kept him out of seven of the last 10 games. Defensive end Fili Moala, who had been hobbled by a knee injury, also went on injured reserve Monday.
To fill those spots, the Colts promoted receiver Josh Lenz and added Branch. They also released defensive tackle Christian Tupou from the practice squad.
Pagano also is uncertain whether starting safety LaRon Landry (concussion) will be cleared in time to play Saturday. If Landry can’t go, Sergio Brown or Corey Lynch is expected to start. Brown returned from a groin injury Saturday after missing the previous two games.
But it was the injury of Heyward-Bey, who has become a special teams demon since losing his job as a starting receiver, that prompted the Colts to plug their hole at receiver with someone who understands Brady and Belichick.
“I think it’s just he’s a smart guy, and he’s been through a few different systems,” Pagano said. “Time will tell on that once we get him in here and get him in meetings and get him out there (at practice). I’m sure he’s run all the concepts that we run, it’s just being a matter of becoming familiar with the terminology.”
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