FOXBOROUGH — Alan Branch never needs a reason to dance. He’s always ready to bust a move.
But the big Patriots defensive tackle had a big reason to show off his steps Sunday during New England’s 26-10 win — the record-setting 201st of Tom Brady’s career — over the young and struggling Rams at Gillette Stadium.
Branch had his four-game suspension rescinded over the weekend and he played — and danced — like a man who had reason to celebrate.
Branch set the tone for New England’s thoroughly dominant defensive performance by dropping Todd Gurley for a 1-yard loss on Los Angeles’s first play from scrimmage.
He shot a gap, buried Gurley, and broke out into a dance. Though he looked like a man expressing a sigh of relief after a trying two weeks, Branch had a different take.
“That was just me playing ball, man,’’ Branch said. “When I get TFLs [tackles for loss], I get excited. I was trying to get the team energized for the rest of the game.’’
The Patriots throttled the Rams, holding them to 162 total net yards — with 66 coming on one play late in the game.
Los Angeles rookie quarterback Jared Goff was harassed all day, completing just 14 of 32 passes for 161 yards. He was sacked four times for 35 yards.
It was as if the Patriots were on a mission to make sure the No. 1 overall pick wouldn’t upstage Brady on his big day.
Gurley, the team’s top pick last year, was bottled up for just 38 yards on 11 carries.
The Rams converted just 1 of 12 third-down attempts — a paltry 8 percent.
“Getting off the field on third down was huge,’’ said Patriots safety Devin McCourty.
But back to Branch, who acknowledged the original news of the suspension hurt.
“I was obviously upset because I knew I didn’t do anything wrong,’’ said Branch. “So, having my name out there for my family and friends and my kids, you never want to have that on you. But I just wanted to continue to go out and continue to practice and play my best ball.’’
Again, he succeeded.
Though the early tackle was the lone one was he was credited for, Branch was a force all afternoon — plugging holes, occupying bodies, and creating space for his teammates.
The rest of the defense fed off the energy, collecting a pair of interceptions, the aforementioned sacks, and hitting Goff nine times.
The Rams were issued a sideline warning for being in the white area early but it was almost as if they interpreted it as a red area warning because they didn’t reach that real estate until there were 90 seconds left in the game.
The Patriots offense started quickly, taking the opening kickoff and marching 80 yards on eight plays, with LeGarrette Blount rumbling the final 43 yards for the touchdown on a fourth and 1.
Blount blasted off right tackle, got exceptional blocks from Martellus Bennett and James Develin, and then came upon Rams safety Maurice Alexander, who got spun around, and watched helplessly as Blount powered toward the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
“The first drive was good,’’ said Brady. “LG had a great run in there on short yardage and kind of busted down the sideline.’’
The Patriots doubled their lead early in the second quarter when Brady hit Chris Hogan with a 14-yard back-shoulder pass in the end zone.
Hogan celebrated with an emphatic Gronkowski-like spike.
“Well, I always spike it,’’ said Hogan. “But that one might have had a little extra on it for my man.”
There was still nearly three quarters of football left, but this one felt over at that point.
Other observations as the Patriots improved to 10-2 — the 14th straight season they’ve posted double-digit victories.
■ Logan Ryan was everywhere.
The cornerback collected five tackles, including a 12-yard sack and a pair of QB hits on back-to-back blitzes.
“When I’m blitzing, good things happen. The whole team gets happy when they know it’s my number called and I get happy, too,’’ said Ryan with a big smile, who also said he has no interest in a position change.
“I want to show them I can rush the passer but not so good that they put me at defensive end,’’ he said with a laugh.
■ Shea McClellin had his best game as a Patriot.
The hybrid linebacker/defensive end was in on a team-high six tackles, including a sack.
■ New England converted two turnovers into 10 points.
Malcolm Butler picked off Goff, leading to Hogan’s touchdown and Kyle Van Noy’s acrobatic pickoff resulted in Stephen Gostkowski’s 45-yard field goal in the third quarter. It was the second straight game in which New England forced two turnovers.
■ The running game was huge.
Blount led the charge with 88 yards on 18 carries but solid contributions from Dion Lewis (27 yards) and James White (17) kept the Rams off balance.
■ The Patriots did struggle on third down, converting just 4 of 16 (25 percent).
■ Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell helped fill the void left by Gronkowski’s absence.
Each had eight receptions for a combined 183 yards.
“Both of them played great,’’ said Brady. “We’re going to need [them] to keep doing it.’’