The Patriots signed Stallworth after wide receiver Julian Edelman went on injured reserve Dec. 4. Belichick might have brought Branch back even if Stallworth were healthy. But he was hurt on a 63-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady, his only catch in his only game of the season.
Now he's the one rehabbing.
"There's no rush, so I want to make sure that I get it back right," Stallworth said, standing near a removable boot on the floor of his locker stall.
Stallworth knows the drill, of course. He also has been back and forth with the Patriots several times. He caught 46 passes for the 2007 team that was 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. Then he signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Browns for 2008 and was suspended for the 2009 season after a car he was driving struck and killed a pedestrian in South Florida that March. Stallworth spent 24 days in jail for a DUI manslaughter conviction.
He played for Baltimore in 2010 and Washington in 2011 and signed with the Patriots last March. But they released him on Aug. 27, just four days before Branch was cut.
"He's one of my guys," Branch said. "We came in the draft class together."
On Thursday, Branch returned to work as if, it almost seemed, he had never left.
"Nothing's changed," he said. "All the guys just walked past my locker like nothing ever happened, so I didn't get any hugs, just 'Hey, how you doing? What's up?'"
With or without Branch, the Patriots have kept winning throughout the past decade.
"This is where I want to be. This is where I want to retire," he said. "So that kind of makes everything a lot easier."
Especially now that he has a shot at another championship, as long as the Patriots keep him.
"That's what I hope," he said.
Surely, D'Ahni hopes the same thing.
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