Branch silences his critics

SEATTLE – Apparently the bulk of the 67,002 fans in attendance at Qwest Field on Sunday were with the Seahawks and not against them.

Though for at least a play or two, it appeared as though most of those same fans were not exactly with wide receiver Deion Branch, but not necessarily against him.

It was Branch, who delivered a semi-ultimatum last week on the sports talk radio station, KJR-AM, telling Seahawks fans, “You’re either with us, or against us.”

The comment sparked a fair amount of debate on message boards and comment threads from Seahawks fans. Most of the rhetoric was not necessarily in agreement with Branch’s statement.

Not surprisingly, the Seahawks did not have their offense announced in the starting lineup, opting for the defense. So fans’ first chance to react to Branch’s name being called over the PA system at Qwest came with 7:45 to go in the first quarter when he caught a 6-yard pass from Matt Hasselbeck.

Branch received a smattering of boos from fans. But there wasn’t much vitriol in the response.

Perhaps he did the best thing possible to silence any more jeers from the fans – he kept making catches.

For his next catch, he snagged a Hasselbeck pass out of the air, broke a tackle and ripped off a 35-yard gain. And there wasn’t a boo heard over the cheers.

“The fans understand that I’m a champion and I’m going to out and fight for this team,” Branch said. “I don’t think I said anything crazy. But to each his own on whatever they believe or how they interpret it. I didn’t mean anything bad by it.”

To be fair, Branch is far from combative. But he isn’t above the frustration of what has been a disappointing season for the team and for himself.

In a way, Sunday’s game summed up both. The Seahawks had a chance to win the game late only to fall short. Branch had a respectable game – four catches for 77 yards – but also had a costly drop that could have led to points.

“We made some big plays out there, but we also left some plays out there,” Branch said. “All the wideouts dropped a ball, me, T.J. (Houshmandzadeh) and John (Carlson) all had bad drops.”

Ah, yes, Houshmandzadeh. He was also present during that now infamous radio interview. It was tough to tell if he received any boos, or if it was just the Seahawks’ fans customary bellow of “Hooousssshhh!!!”

Regardless, Houshmandzadeh wrapped up his first season with Seattle with a performance that reflected the team’s season: prolonged moments of living up to his $40 million free-agent contract with three catches for 66 yards. But he also looked as though he and Hasselbeck weren’t seeing the same reads and coverages on a few plays.

“It is what it is, and it’s tough to finish the way we finished,” he said. “And then to play the way I played individually, it’s tough.”

The question remains whether Branch and Houshmandzadeh will be teammates next season.

Smart money tends to think that the Seahawks won’t keep both of them, with Branch more likely to be cut.

Branch said he wants to return.

“I’ve got two years left on my contract and I want finish those two years,” Branch said. “This is my team and these are my teammates. This organization brought me in to play football and make plays for them. Whatever happens you have to take a grain of salt, but I’d love to come back.”

Houshmandzadeh, whose time with the Seahawks is still just getting started, didn’t speculate on his future. But he does believe the team can turn around and start winning next season.

“It just depends on what happens,” he said. “It depends on the changes that are made. Miami was 1-15 and they went to the playoffs the next year. Nobody would have thought that would happen. It depends on what happens and if the right things happen. We’ll be good.”

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483