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Randy's Dandy Again

Sept. 17, 2007
Sept. 17, 2007

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Sept. 17, 2007

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Pro Football
  • Week 1 of the NFL season put Super Bowl contenders to the test, and the AFC power with the most to prove answered resoundingly as the Chargers stared down a stiff challenge from the Bears and sent the NFC champs limping home

  • After a phenomenal Pats debut, the big question now is, Can Randy Moss be stopped?

  • If Brett Favre has one of his typical seasons in 2007, he'll surpass three NFL career milestones held by Dan Marino. But big numbers aren't the only thing those two have in common

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Randy's Dandy Again

After a phenomenal Pats debut, the big question now is, Can Randy Moss be stopped?

RANDY MOSS wasstill wet from his postgame shower on Sunday, when a media horde swarmed aroundhim, cameras, boom mikes and digital recorders all trained on a mug that mightas well have been on a milk carton the past two seasons. "I wouldn't talkto none of 'em, Moss!" a Patriots teammate bellowed from across thevisitor's locker room at Giants Stadium. "They said you was washed up!"But Moss was all too happy to indulge his Greek chorus. With just a towelaround his waist and a pink loofah in his hand, the 10th-year veteran wideoutresumed his rightful place in the spotlight, patiently answering one breathlessquestion after another in a measured twang. "I'll leave that up to youguys," Moss said, when asked whether he intended his nine-catch, 183-yardperformance in New England's 38--14 win over the New York Jets as some kind ofstatement. "That's what the talk shows and the game shows are for—to tellpeople all the nonsense that y'all believe in."

This is an article from the Sept. 17, 2007 issue

It appearsreports of Moss's demise were greatly exaggerated. Once considered the mostdangerous receiver in the NFL, he spent the last two seasons in careerpurgatory with the Raiders and, after arriving in New England by way of adraft-day trade, nearly all of August on the shelf with a hamstring injury. Asa consequence, few figured the enigmatic, sometimes irascible receiver wouldmake much of a splash in his first game as a Patriot. But Moss put on the kindof performance that hadn't been seen since his glory days with the Vikings.Consider just a few of the myths about him that were dispelled.

HE'S LOST A STEP.Given Moss's age (he turned 30 last February) and precipitous decline inproduction (his 42 catches last year were a career low), the whispers aroundthe league were that the three-time All-Pro no longer had the physical skillsto make an impact. But Moss needed only one game to remind the rest of the NFLthat, when properly deployed, he remains the toughest cover in the league. At6'4" and 210 pounds, he's not only significantly bigger than most defensivebacks but faster as well, and covering him one-on-one is just asking to getburned. The Jets went with man coverage on him for most of the game and,indeed, paid dearly. When cornerback Justin Miller tried to jam him at the linein the second quarter, Moss blew right past him for a 33-yard reception. RookieDarrelle Revis was fast enough to stay with Moss but at 5'11" was no matchin stature. On second-and-seven in the fourth quarter the Patriots receiverwent over Revis's head to snare a 13-yard pass that set up New England's finaltouchdown. Said New York safety Erik Coleman, "He definitely showed mesomething today."

He showed thatdouble-covering him won't be much of an answer. It either handcuffs a defensefrom blitzing quarterback Tom Brady—thus affording him a world of time to pickand choose underneath targets—or it fails to contain Moss in the end. "Icould [see] a huge difference when Randy was out there on my side," saidWes Welker, the free agent from the Dolphins who had six catches for 61 yardsand a touchdown. When the Jets finally did roll a safety over to Moss's sidethey got burned big-time. Exploiting a sound play action by Brady, Moss deftlyslipped past three defenders on a crossing route and caught a 51-yard touchdownpass in stride. ("I threw it about as far as I could throw it," Bradysaid through a wide smile. "That wasn't exactly the way we drew it up, butmaybe we should draw it up that way.") Afterward Coleman admitted beingdeceived by the formation. "They had three tight ends in the game," hesaid. "That's usually a run play for a lot of teams."

HE WON'T BE INSYNC WITH BRADY. When the hamstring forced Moss to sit out most of trainingcamp, the concern was that it would prevent him from getting comfortable in thenew offense and getting his timing with Brady down. As offenses go, thePatriots boast one of the most complex in the league. (It certainly is moremultifaceted than the one Moss left in Oakland.) In New England's playbook,receivers are asked to make their own defensive reads and adjustments ratherthan rely on the quarterback. Reche Caldwell, who despite leading the Pats inreceptions last year was the odd man out in the overstocked wideout corps andwas cut on Sept. 3, said it took him half a season before he found a rhythmwith Brady. ("We had an off week and worked on our passing game," saysCaldwell, who is still looking for a job. "Then it took off.") Moss, bycontrast, needed one good week of practice to get on the same page with hisquarterback.

Moss'sversatility—he lined up at the X and Y spots and also caught passes out of theslot—allowed New England to deploy him in various personnel packages. Sometimeshe was out there with Welker, other times with fellow newcomer Donte'Stallworth, and in a handful of instances all three lined up together;occasionally, as on the TD bomb, Moss was a lone wideout with multiple tightends. Often, substitute receivers weren't sent in until the last moment, tofurther keep the Jets off-guard. What was once considered a team weakness—widereceiver—now makes New England even more potent. "If [opponents] defenddeep, we throw it short," said Brady, who spread his 22 completions amongseven players. "If they defend short, we try to throw it deep. And ifthey're overaggressive, we try to screen it." What's more impressive: Thefact that the Patriots have an answer for everything or that it's only Week 1?And what happens when this offense really gets rolling?

HE'S NOT A TEAMGUY. This notion was dispelled on New England's first play from scrimmage, whenMoss put a helmet on the defensive back in front of him, clearing a path fortailback Laurence Maroney to gain 11 yards. Moss's early fluency inPatriots-speak, the lingua franca of the selfless, is noteworthy—instead of"me" and "I," words like "game plan" and"execution" are his new go-to terms—and his enthusiasm was infectiouson Sunday. On more than one occasion in the dead time between plays orquarters, he would suddenly explode into a stationary sprint on the sideline,knees pumping like pistons into his chest, and then, once back to idle, observeWelker or Kelley Washington (yet another new wideout, a free agent formerlywith the Bengals) excitedly following suit. "I think he's been a greatleader for that receiver group," said Brady, who singles out performance asthe chief criterion for leadership on this team. "He sets high expectationsfor that position. All the guys look up to him as a role model—and Randy knowsthat."

For all ofBrady's brilliance, he'd never had a receiver (with the possible exception ofDeion Branch) who ranked among the game's elite. Similarly Moss, though he'dplayed alongside Cris Carter in Minnesota, has never before been this flushwith complementary talent. Now that the two are teamed, who knows how muchbetter they'll make each other?

The answer couldsend chills down some spines in San Diego and Indianapolis.

Moss needed only one game to remind the NFL that, whenproperly deployed, he remains the league's TOUGHEST COVER.
PHOTOADAM HUNGER/EPALIKE IT'S 1999 Moss flashed the dominant playmaking form of his early days as a Viking.PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYER[See caption above]