In the months after his game-winning touchdown catch in Super Bowl XLII over the New England Patriots, former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress(notes) was discussing other wideouts in the game while driving around his neighborhood in South Florida two years ago.
“Some guys are faster than me, but I don’t think there’s anybody better than me, nobody I bow down to,” Burress said before his voice trailed off slightly as he thought for a second.
“Nobody except Mossy,” he said, referring to Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss(notes). “Yeah, Mossy is better than all of us.”
At the NFL’s most notorious of diva positions, particularly now that the NFL has become such a pass-oriented league, Moss gets wide (although somewhat grudging) respect around the league. Even at age 32 and despite the usual controversy that swirls around him from time to time, Moss is looked upon as the king of his position.
Moreover, if the Patriots are to have any chance of progressing in the playoffs this year, Moss must become the completely dominant force he has often been in the past. The loss of fellow wide receiver Wes Welker(notes) to a knee injury this past Sunday only accentuates Moss’ role as the big-play threat in the New England offense.
“You can talk about [Welker] all you want, Randy makes it go,” Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White(notes) said. “Randy is who we all look at and say, ‘I wanna be like that’ when it comes to playing ball.”
Like that is the greatest combination of physical skill and execution the league has probably ever seen. While Moss is still second to Jerry Rice(notes) on the list of all-time receivers, both statistically and in the minds of most NFL coaches and players, there is no questioning his physical skill.
“Size, speed, elusiveness, even power,” Houston Texans Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson(notes) said. “Randy can do anything you want. Run deep, run drag routes, catch in the red zone, get on top of a [cornerback] in a hurry. Everything. You draw them up that way.”
At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Moss has always had sprinter’s speed and most defenders believe he hasn’t lost much over the years. In all but one of his 12 seasons, Moss has had at least one play of 60 yards or longer (his injury-plagued, 2006 season in Oakland was the exception). By comparison, former Indianapolis receiver Marvin Harrison(notes) didn’t hit the 60 mark in five of his 13 seasons. Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald(notes), who many see as the heir to Moss’ throne as the NFL’s top active receiver, has topped the 60 mark in only one of his six seasons.
“Randy still runs right over the top of a defense,” Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey(notes) said. “He’s not as sudden as he was seven or eight years ago, but you have to respect [his speed]. If you don’t, he’s going to get past you and then he’s going to shield you with those arms and his body. He’s a beast, man.”
Unanimously, players say that Moss’ attention to fundamentals is also much better than he’s generally given credit. Despite having long legs, Moss is able to chop step and disguise the types of routes he’s running. He gives away very few clues about what he’s trying to run, even in obvious situations.
In terms of understanding how the offense is run, New England coach Bill Belichick praised Moss earlier this season, saying Moss was one of the smartest players he had ever been around. Belichick doesn’t say things like that lightly.
“He not only knows what he’s doing, he knows what everybody else is doing,” Belichick said. “He knows what the defense is doing and he usually knows what the quarterback is doing with the ball, based on all that information he compiles in a very short amount of time – a couple to pre-read and then maybe a half a second or second into the play.”
The downside of Moss is well-known. With both the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders, Moss shut down when he perceived that the team wasn’t functional. It got to the point that Moss would walk away from former Raiders coach Norv Turner in the middle of games when the two were in Oakland.
This year, there have been two occasions when it was believed that Moss wasn’t giving his all with the Patriots. After Moss caught 10 passes for 116 yards in a victory over Atlanta earlier this season, CBS Sportsline columnist Mike Freeman was critical of Moss’ efforts in blocking and on plays when he wasn’t the primary target. Privately, the Patriots defended Moss by saying that he was dealing with a back injury.
Still, Belichick and the team have consistently defended Moss and the stats back them up. In his three years with New England, Moss has had at least 1,000 yards receiving each season (even without Brady for all but minutes of the 2008 season) and set an NFL record with 23 TD catches in 2007.
All things considered, the Patriots are quite happy with what they have.
“Randy has been everything we asked,” Belichick said.