Chiefs' Branch finding place to flourish in Kansas City
Dec. 09, 2015
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The image of Tyvon Branch returning an interception for a touchdown in Oakland is exactly what the Raiders pictured when they signed him to a lucrative contract extension a few years ago.
They just didn't picture him doing it for the Kansas City Chiefs.
The veteran safety was voted AFC defensive player of the week after his pick-six in last Sunday's 34-20 victory over the Raiders. Branch also had four tackles and broke up a pass in his best game since signing with AFC West rival Kansas City this past offseason.
"It's a blessing to be part of a team like this and a defense like this," Branch said Wednesday. "I mean, to do it in place like the 'Black Hole' where I spent so much of my career, it's definitely a good feeling."
Made even better by the way his career has gone the past few years.
Branch was a fourth-round pick of Oakland in 2008, and played so well early in his career that the Raiders slapped the franchise tag on him four years later. That summer, they signed him to a $26.6 million, four-year contract that included $17.6 million in guarantees.
He wound up playing just 19 of 48 games after signing the deal.
Branch played 14 games the first year, usually at the same high level as his first four seasons. But a broken leg limited him to two games the next season, and a broken foot in Week 3 against New England last year landed him on injured reserve for a third straight year.
After getting five games out of him in two seasons, the Raiders decided to walk.
The Chiefs signed him to an incentive-laden, one-year deal that could be worth up to $4 million, primarily as insurance in case Eric Berry was unable to recover from cancer treatment.
Well, Berry came back. But that didn't keep Branch off the field.
After young nickel back Phillip Gaines went down with a season-ending injury, the versatile Branch slid into that role. He's been a critical part of the defense ever since, helping the Chiefs (7-5) rattle off six straight wins and get into playoff contention with San Diego visiting on Sunday.
"You're happy for that kid," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "He got banged up for a couple years in a row and didn't play a lot of football. He's eased his way back in and he's a heck of a football player — a healthy football player. That's the main thing."
Not only has his play been solid, so has his locker room disposition. He has become one of the veteran leaders on the defense, right along with Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson, and helped everyone else keep an even keel when the Chiefs were stumbling to a 1-5 start.
That steadiness was evident again this past weekend. Branch could have been amped up to play against his former team, the one that cut him loose. But instead, he barely mentioned the homecoming all week, preferring to focus only on the job at hand.
"He didn't say much about it all week," Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith said, "but we knew deep down inside, this was a game he definitely wanted to win. So we wanted to come out and make sure we balled out for him. To see him get that pick and seal the deal for us, that's big, man.
"That," Smith said, "was definitely a big play for him."
Notes: FS Husain Abdullah, DE Mike DeVito and WR De'Anthony Thomas (concussions) were held out of practice Wednesday, though C Mitch Morse was cleared to return after going through the protocol and missing the Oakland game. ... LB Justin Houston (left knee) also missed practice.
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