FOXBOROUGH - Patriots quarterback Tom Brady passionately came to the defense of receiver Randy Moss yesterday, firing back at critics who have questioned Moss's effort.
In a quiet moment in the locker room before practice, Brady was asked if he agreed with ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst Ron Jaworski, who said Moss took plays off during the team's 31-28 victory over the Eagles last Sunday night.
Brady had not heard the remarks, and was made aware of them by a reporter.
"I have never, ever felt he has taken plays off. Are you kidding me? There is nothing there about Randy's game that I'm not 100 percent positive on," Brady said.
"Randy is an extremely mentally tough person and people have criticized him since the day he got here. People have prejudged him and stereotyped him. He's been nothing but a positive influence on this team, on this locker room, and his performance speaks for itself. He's probably the most-feared offensive player in the game, so what somebody says outside of this locker room means nothing."
Speaking on a conference call Wednesday leading into ESPN's broadcast of the Patriots' game against the Ravens Monday, Jaworski - a former quarterback and widely respected analyst who thoroughly breaks down tape at NFL Films studios - said his review revealed that Moss wasn't running hard on every play against the Eagles.
"It was the first time that I was personally disappointed in a Randy Moss performance," Jaworski said. "I did not see the same energy on every single play that I had seen so far this season. When he was the No. 1 go-to guy on a route, he gave great effort and hustle. But there were some plays on the back side, when he wasn't the primary receiver, I did not see the great effort."
Jaworski was later asked which he would choose, Moss or Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens. After saying he'd like both of them, Jaworski did not select Moss because "of the lack of consistent effort."
To Brady, the remarks were another example of critics piling on Moss.
"It bothers me that people take unnecessary shots at him," Brady said. "I don't know what he's done in the past, but he's been great to be around and I think people just like taking shots, unfortunately. If you truly appreciated what he does in his game, then [you wouldn't take shots]. I think he's a shy person by nature, so people take advantage of that. That's unfortunate, because around us he's a great teammate and everything we're looking for."
In last Sunday's win, Moss was on the field for 71 of 73 offensive snaps. The only time he came off the field was when the Patriots went to their goal-line package in the first quarter, and for one third-quarter play after he ran a long route and was given a breather.
The playing time was reflective of Moss's work through 11 games. Out of a possible 736 snaps - which includes snaps on which penalties were called and thus don't count as official plays - he has been on the field for a whopping 629. That 85 percent clip leads Patriots skill-position players (non-quarterbacks). Receiver Wes Welker is next at 483 snaps (66 percent).
Brady pointed out that last Sunday's game featured a lot of passing, so pacing was a consideration.
"We had 54 pass attempts in the game, and you go out and tell a world-class sprinter to run 50 50-yard dashes, the idea is, 'You better have it when you need it.' And Randy is a smart player and he knows when he needs it," Brady said. "I have so much trust in him."
Like Brady, coach Bill Belichick indicated he has been pleased with Moss's effort.
"Randy has done a good job for us. He's been a good leader, a good player, very productive," he said. "I'd say the same thing about Randy as I'd say about myself and every other player - he's not perfect. There are things he could do better. I make plenty of mistakes, so does everybody else."
Brady, whose locker is next to Moss's, indicated he couldn't ask for more from Moss, who leads the league with 16 receiving touchdowns and 1,095 receiving yards.
"He's been everything that we hoped for, a great leader," Brady said. "There is nobody that has more respect for what he's done than the quarterback of this team, which is me, and along with that, the other receivers he plays with. He's the most-feared player in the game. That speaks for itself."
Mike Reiss can be reached at email@example.com