Whenever Deion Branch thinks back to the Patriots’ 32-29 Super Bowl XXXVIII victory against the Carolina Panthers, he doesn’t think about the elation and excitement of winning as a second-year receiver.
He thinks of the pain. The bone-crunching hits. The physicality that Carolina brought to the field, with hard-hitting guys such as Julius Peppers, Deon Grant, and Mike Minter.
“We all reaped the benefits, but we felt it,” Branch said. “I remember talking to Troy Brown days after the game, and normally guys would be celebrating. We’re still sitting in the ice tub three days later.”
The teams were in a scoreless deadlock for nearly two quarters before Branch, who would haul in a total of 10 catches for 143 yards, scored on a 5-yard reception to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead with 3:10 to go in the half.
From there it was a battle, with both defenses being put through the grinder, and the game was tied, 29-29, in the final two minutes.
The physicality came to a climax when Patriots safety Rodney Harrison broke his forearm but kept playing because Carolina was in a no-huddle offense and he couldn’t get off the field. Finally, Harrison got off to get treatment.
“The magnitude. The emotions,” said Branch. “I mean, the guy broke his forearm and kept playing. It was crazy.”
The Patriots got the ball back with 1:08 remaining. It was time for another clutch Tom Brady march down the field. Time for another Adam Vinatieri game-winning field goal. Time for the Patriots’ second Super Bowl title after they missed the playoffs in 2002.
“That Super Bowl was won during the offseason and not wanting to go through the same feeling we felt the previous year,” Branch said.