When Randy Moss enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame (I’d guess in 2017, figuring he plays three more years) you’ll hear a lot about 2007 and 1998. There will be talk of Pro Bowls and of his back-to-back seasons with over 100 catches in 2002 and 2003. And when ESPN runs the two-minute highlight package of Moss’ career, you’ll see all the greatest hits — the Thanksgiving show he put on vs. Dallas as a rookie, the one-handed TD catch vs. Miami in 2007, probably even the “catch and moon” job at Lambeau that turned Joe Buck into Glenn Beck (Moss was Artie Lange before Artie Lange). All the stuff we remember.
And I doubt very highly that a September game in which Moss failed to catch a TD pass will rank high on the career chart when all is said and done. But any Patriots fan worth a nickel should know that the effort put forth by Moss in Sunday’s win over the Falcons is the kind of stuff that truly separates the good from the great.
Battling a bad back that some thought might leave him unable to suit up vs. Atlanta, Moss caught 10 passes for 116 yards (his second game with double-digit catches in 2009) in the 26-10 final. He was part Wes Welker (definitely not afraid to go over the middle, hauling in several big third-down grabs as well as the game-clincher on fourth-and-1 with two minutes left), part Hines Ward (sort of — he tried to lay down a block on the Julian Edelman reverse early in the fourth quarter) and, yes, part Randy Moss (vintage No. 81 on the sideline grab for 21 yards on fourth-and-3 at the Atlanta 37 at the end of the third).
He did enough in 2007 alone to earn his Patriots stripes, but since then Moss has turned into something other than a TD machine. He’s become an intangibles guy, someone Belichick can count on to do the little things as well as make the big play (and Moss is on pace for 139 catches in 2009). OK, he’s not Troy Brown in the “do it all” category, but he’s getting close. If you watched the game on Fox you know even Joe Buck is now a believer. And that’s what it’s all about, right?
A few questions to ponder while wondering if JaMarcus Russell can be a serviceable backup for Michael Bishop with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2010:
ARE WE BUYING THE 'BRADY'S BACK' TALK WE'LL BE HEARING ALL WEEK?
I’m not. Again, I’m trying hard to avoid the 2007 comparisons, but I think even the pre-2007 Brady passes for 350 yards and a couple of TDs vs. that non-existent Atlanta pass rush (and this game would have been one of those 41-10 laughers in ’07). He made the plays when he had to (the fourth-down passes to Moss, the TD pass to Chris Baker) but there were at least a half-dozen throws that you never would have seen from Brady in years past. Most starting QBs in the NFL would have at least matched Brady’s numbers (25-of-42, 277 yards, one TD) if they had as much time in the pocket to make plays. I still expect Brady to regain his form, but it may take longer than anticipated (if it hasn’t already). Be fair — you aren’t exactly brimming with confidence that the Pats will be able to put up points next week vs. the Ravens.
(And for what’s it worth, Brady is on pace to shatter the NFL record for attempts in a season. Uncle Rico Bledsoe holds the mark with 691, set in 1994. Brady is on target for 747 attempts this season. Sure, it’s early, but do you see things changing? I mean, he threw the ball 42 times during a game in which (a) the Pats were ahead the entire second half and (b) they averaged 4.3 yards per rush. Just something to keep an eye on.)
IS THE 'RUNNING BACK BY COMMITTEE' ERA OVER?
For now, I guess. You never know with Belichick when it comes to running backs, but Taylor is the clear-cut No. 1 guy now. Has to be. I’m not sure he gets 20 carries a week (and I agree with that — you have to keep him on the field, but to do that you have to keep him off the field, if you know what I mean) but he’s been by far the most productive back over the first three weeks. Not even close. The question is, Who steps in and gets the 8-10 carries a week? I’m still betting on Sammy Morris (who, at worst, is a nice upgrade over Heath Evans in the third-and-short scenario) but maybe Kevin Faulk will be the guy. And maybe this thigh injury will put a stop to the weekly “start Laurence Maroney, watch him do nothing for a series and bench him the rest of the game.” I thought Skid Row at Great Woods in 1989 was the worst opening act I had ever seen but Maroney has managed to top Sebastian and the crew. And, ironically, his crime also is time.
WE TRUST THIS DEFENSE NOW, DON'T WE?
Oh, this is a good question. I could pretend to be Skip Bayless and you can be the other guy on that show nobody watches unless they are in a hospital or stuck on a 14-hour JetBlue fight, but I don’t think I can do that even as a parody.
But yeah, this defense sure seems to be for real. Troy Aikman suggested that the defensive players carried this team, and I’m inclined to agree. They’ve outperformed the offense in all three games so far, and while I don’t expect that to continue, I think they have shown that they are playoff-caliber. And they give off a 2001 Patriots vibe as a unit. Maybe no stars and or dominant pass rusher, but they are opportunistic and don’t give up the killer plays. Look at Sunday. Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez were non-factors (anyone have bets on Gonzalez being the third-most effective tight end between the two teams?) and Matt Ryan was just average. Nothing spectacular from the Pats defense (no sacks or picks) but nothing catastrophic. And just 262 yards allowed per game to this point.
YOU HALF-EXPECTED BELICHICK TO CUT JOEY GALLOWAY AT HALFTIME, RIGHT?
It’s still early (though no longer early-early) but I’m ready to close the book on the Joey Galloway experiment. Hard to believe that I have more faith in Edelman, a converted quarterback with three games in the NFL, than I do in Galloway, a player with more than 10,000 yards receiving. I can’t remember Brady losing his cool like that with a receiver, not even the during the 2006 season when Reche Caldwell was his top option. Galloway has been in the NFL forever — he has to stay inbounds on the catch in the end zone. Throw in that drop at the Atlanta 5-yard line and you’ve got a serious candidate for the “Donald Hayes Bust Award.”
IS IT REALLY SMART TO GO FOR IT ON FOURTH-AND-INCHES FROM YOUR OWN 24-YARD LINE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES?
Of course. If you are losing and out of timeouts with less than two minutes to go in the fourth quarter it makes sense, but I can’t really advocate going for it in the middle of the third quarter when you have a lead. Didn’t Barry Switzer get fired for trying (and obviously failing) the same thing in Dallas?
But it worked and showed confidence in both the offense and defense. And I disagreed with Troy Aikman when he felt that Belichick tries this stuff because he has three Super Bowls. That to me suggests that he doesn’t really care if it works or not. I do think he was a little frustrated with the offense and decided to take a shot, but he would have done that in 2000, I think. But I did think that Mike Smith made a mistake punting on fourth-and-5 from the New England 38 on the previous drive. Seemed inconsistent to me, since on the Falcons' only TD drive of the game (second quarter) they converted a fourth-and-4 from the NE 34.
(And I’m on the record that I root against any team with an owner that walks on the sideline during games. Arthur Blank looks like he should be Junior Soprano’s lawyer, not someone pretending to be Hank Stram while actual coaches and players are trying to work.)
EARLY PREDICTION FOR NEXT WEEK?
Yes: When Edelman catches his first pass, one of the announcers will compare him to Wes Welker, Ricky Proehl or Brandon Stokley.