Here in New England, a couple of months ago, we actually cared about Randy Moss. Now you never hear his name around Gillette Stadium. The Patriots host the New York Jets in Foxborough on Monday Night Football next week and Randy Moss is ancient history. He is a non-factor.
The Patriots dealt him after their fourth game of the season and have become a better team without the Hall of Fame wideout.
I was wrong about Bill Belichick's motivation when Moss was dealt to the Vikings two days after the Pats smoked the Dolphins in Miami. I thought the deal meant that Belichick was giving up on the Pats' season. I thought this meant the hooded guru did not believe he had a chance to win this year. Why else would you trade a talent like Moss for a third-round pick four games into a season?
It turns out that Belichick knew exactly what he was doing. Moss had outlived his usefulness in New England. He was no longer needed. He was becoming a problem in the locker room and Belichick saw trouble coming. So he made the deal. He snookered the Minnesota Vikings. It was like something Red Auerbach did in the good old days.
Moss played three seasons and four games with the Patriots. He was no trouble. He caught 23 touchdown passes in the 16-0 season of 2007 and caught the TD pass that would have won the Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., if it hadn't been for David Tyree and Ellis Hobbs in single coverage on Plaxico Burress. Moss never matched those totals in New England. With Matt Cassel replacing the injured Tom Brady in 2008 Moss caught 69 passes, including 11 touchdowns. Last year when Brady came back Moss was good for 83 catches and 13 touchdowns.
Discouraging the widely held notion that Moss was a bad guy, the Pats made him a team captain for a couple of years. Teammates talked about how much they adored Randy.
But it wasn't right in 2010. In the final year of his contract, the 33-year-old diva talked about how the Patriots "don't pay.'' Moss was rude to club sponsors at owner Bob Kraft's annual preseason charity event, then launched into an unprovoked tirade about feeling unloved after the Patriots opening-game victory at home against the Bengals. He sealed his fate in New England that day.
Moss made a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch against the Jets in Week 2, but the Pats lost the game. He caught only two passes the next week, then had zero catches in the Miami blowout. He was targeted only once that night. And he was not happy. Moss argued with one of the Pats' assistant coaches at halftime. Two days later, he was gone.
And what did Randy do in Minnesota? He got Brad Childress fired, that's what. Moss' last game with the Vikings was a one-catch special against the Patriots (who else?) in Gillette on Halloween and after the game he threw his coach and all of his teammates under the bus. He professed his undying love for the Patriots. Hours later, Moss was fired by the Vikings. And then we learned that the last straw in Minnesota was an embarrassing outburst aimed at a Twin Cities catering company which came to the Vikings facility to serve lunch.
Available to every franchise in the NFL, Moss drew interest from only one team: the Tennessee Titans. He caught one pass in his first two games as the Titans started to implode. Sunday against Houston, Moss caught three passes for 23 yards in a 20-0 loss. The Vikings were 1-3 with Moss. The Titans are 0-3 with Moss. And the Patriots are 6-1 since they traded Moss.
Do the math.
Moss has become an expensive, high-maintenance decoy. Popular wisdom holds that Moss stretches the field, takes the safeties out of the box, and enables you to run the ball and get one-on-one coverage everywhere else. It has not worked for the Vikings or the Titans. And years from now when we want to study a free agent setting himself on fire in his walk year, we will study Randy Moss 2010.
The Titans have problems that run deeper than Moss. The immortal Rusty Smith started at quarterback against the Texans on Sunday. Vince Young and Jeff Fisher are clearly done with one another. Young is only 27, but he has worn out his welcome in Tennessee. Owner Bud Adams wants both back. One guy he probably doesn't care about is Randy Moss.
Nobody really cares about Randy anymore. He has blown things up in Minnesota, Oakland, New England, and now Tennessee. He is destined to go into the Hall of Fame as a guy who never won a Super Bowl. And now he gets to watch the Patriots gang of 5-foot-10 receivers in the game of the year Monday night on Revis Island.
The Patriots just keep getting better. They have not turned the ball over in three straight games. They stress yards after the catch instead of flossy one-handed grabs. They are getting mileage out of Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead and a couple of rookie tight ends. They have the best record in football and they are better since they got rid of Randy Moss.