By Don Banks
January 16, 2008

FOXBORO, Mass. -- So much for a perfect world.

For a team that has lived a nirvana-like existence this season -- at least since the Spygate drama died down -- the sight and sound of Randy Moss standing in front of his locker Wednesday morning holding court on his alleged battery of a South Florida woman represents the Patriots' most unwelcome piece of news in months.

Since the day Moss arrived in Foxboro last spring and began a career renaissance that turned historic, this was the kind of headline that so many of his doubters and critics had braced for. It was Moss in trouble. Moss on the defensive. Moss creating a distraction for the team that has long forbidden such things, rendering them as rare as a detailed Patriots' injury report.

The shorthand, of course, is that the old Randy Moss and some of his issues had finally caught up with the new Randy Moss, the one whose remarkable transformation into exemplary teammate and model citizen had played out before our very eyes these past eight-plus months. Some people were no doubt already getting their I-told-you-so's locked and loaded.

But the shorthand is many times wrong, and if the Duke lacrosse case and the shooting death of Sean Taylor have taught us anything, it's that a rush to judgment in matters such as these are a fool's path. Moss repeatedly reminded us of that with a sense of candor and passion seldom, if ever, seen or heard in New England's locker room in the Bill Belichick era.

"You all are going to make judgments,'' Moss said to the media. "You all are going to say whatever you all want. But make sure, and very sure, before you rush to judgment, that you know what you're talking about before you say it. Find out all the facts before you start criticizing me or judging me.''

It's good advice, and everything about this story at the moment sounds like a classic case of he-said, she-said, with the key fact being no criminal charges have been filed in the matter. Moss claims that there was no battery, only an unspecified "accident'' in which the woman involved -- a friend of his for 11 years -- got hurt. He said she's seeking a financial settlement in the "six-figures,'' which he went on to label as "extortion.''

"If she's hurt and needs money, that's on her,'' Moss said. "But for something friendly, an accident to occur, I mean it happens. Stuff happens.''

But up until now in Moss' New England tenure, stuff hadn't happened. Plenty of stuff happened to Moss in his seven years in Minnesota, and some in his two desultory seasons in Oakland. But his time with the Patriots had represented the ultimate in fresh starts. Until Wednesday's mess, he had hit every note perfectly, both on and off the field in New England.

Moss displayed most of his angst Wednesday when asked about the impact that his legal situation could have on the Patriots' well-oiled victory machine. That's when he was his most sincere sounding, full of remorse that he was involved in anything that could bring taint to his new team, or distract it from the task at hand in Sunday's AFC title game against visiting San Diego.

"That's the one thing I want to do,'' said Moss when asked if he looked forward to clearing his name. "Because throughout this whole season, everything has been positive. Why would I bring something negative on? Come on.

"This is something negative, a black cloud hanging over my head. That's something I did not want coming into the season, anything negative. Everything I tried to do -- from getting here early, and making sure I eat the right food, all the way to practicing and playing good, I wanted all that to be an A-plus.''

It's way too early to know if this story is anything more than a blip on the screen for the Super Bowl-favored Patriots. But even he is aware enough of his reputation to know he might not get the benefit of the doubt.

"It's hard, because of everything I've been through, mostly the negatives off the field,'' Moss said, when asked about swaying public opinion toward his innocence. "It's really hard for me to sit up here and say that I'm innocent. Battery -- I didn't hit no woman. I've never laid my hands on a woman. So for you to say battery, now I think if there was such a thing in the court system as an accident, then that's what I'm guilty for. But for you to say I physically, or in an angry manner -- whatever the manner may be -- put my hands on a woman physically, I've never done that.''

There was no way to know on Wednesday how to judge guilt or innocence in this case. But for Moss and the undefeated Patriots, staying on message was impossible on this day. The perfect season remains intact in New England, but nirvana was suddenly nowhere in sight.

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