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Branch Produces an MVP Effort

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 7, 2005; Page D08

JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Feb. 6 -- Deion Branch tied a Super Bowl record with 11 catches, accounting for 133 yards and outshining outspoken Eagles counterpart Terrell Owens.

"He played unbelievable," fellow Patriots receiver David Givens said of Branch. "He always had it in him, and he's been doing big things for us all year."

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Weis Is Working Overtime (washingtonpost.com, Feb 4, 2005)
Thomason Settles Into Role With Eagles (washingtonpost.com, Feb 3, 2005)
E. Smith Retirement May Come as Cowboy (washingtonpost.com, Feb 2, 2005)
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While Branch didn't make it to the end zone, he played a role in all four scoring drives. The biggest catch might have been the last one, a diving 19-yarder over the middle that set up Adam Vinatieri's 22-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.

Branch leaped off the turf and defiantly signaled a first down, the sort of brazen move for which Owens is known. New England pushed its lead to 10 points, enough to hold off the Eagles.

And when it was done, Branch was named most valuable player.

"They say big players step up in big games," Branch said.

Browns Waste No Time Snagging Crennel

The Cleveland Browns waited until after the Super Bowl to land New England Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel as their new head coach. But not long after. Browns officials contacted Crennel almost immediately after the Patriots' victory, and the two sides reached a tentative agreement for Crennel to be the club's next coach.

The deal is pending the completion of a contract between Browns officials and Crennel's agent, Joe Linta. "He has accepted, pending us working out a contract," Linta said. "Hopefully, we can get it done quickly and he can begin putting together a staff."

Negotiations likely will begin Monday and Crennel's hiring probably will become official by midweek. Crennel confirmed the postgame discussions with the Browns.

Patriots Coach Bill Belichick will be losing both of his coordinators, as expected. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis accepted the head coaching job at Notre Dame in December but agreed to remain with the Patriots through the completion of their season.

"They're two of the best coaches I've ever been around," Belichick said after the game. "It's been an honor to work with them."

Crennel's hiring in Cleveland will mean that two of the three head-coaching vacancies league-wide this offseason will have been filled by former Belichick assistants. New Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban once was Belichick's defensive coordinator in Cleveland when Belichick coached the Browns.

It appears likely that Belichick will promote Patriots defensive backs coach Eric Mangini to replace Crennel unless Mangini, whose contract is expiring, follows Crennel to Cleveland or is lured away by the Dolphins or another team willing to outbid New England. Mangini, 34, is regarded around the league as a rising star in the coaching ranks. He kept the New England secondary from falling apart after safety Lawyer Milloy was released in a contract dispute just before last season, and after starting cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole were lost to injuries this season.

Mangini played in college as a nose tackle at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Belichick's alma mater. Mangini wrote a letter to the Browns' equipment manager looking for a job. He joined the Browns and worked his way up from assisting the equipment manager to public relations intern. His hard work caught the eye of Belichick, who made Mangini an entry-level coach.

Mangini followed the Browns franchise to Baltimore and spent a season on the Ravens' coaching staff before reuniting with Belichick on the New York Jets' defensive coaching staff in 1997. He's been with Belichick ever since, following him to New England in 2000 as the Patriots' defensive backs coach.

Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson could be Crennel's defensive coordinator in Cleveland or perhaps could be a candidate to be New England's defensive coordinator, especially if Mangini leaves. Patriots linebackers coach Dean Pees could become Saban's defensive coordinator in Miami if the Dolphins can't get Mangini. Pees once served as Saban's defensive coordinator at Michigan State.

Jeff Davidson, the Patriots' tight ends coach and assistant offensive line coach, could be the leading candidate to replace Weis. He ran the offense during the 2002 preseason when Weis was recovering from a nearly fatal stomach surgery.

Another Feather in Belichick's Cap

Belichick is the first coach to win three Super Bowls in four seasons. When the Dallas Cowboys won three Super Bowls in a four-year span in the 1990s, they won twice with Jimmy Johnson as their coach and once with Barry Switzer. . . .

The Patriots are 34-4 over the past two seasons, including an NFL-record 21-game winning streak.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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