And so there are now no illusions about who the Patriots are at the moment, what they are doing, where they are going. The Patriots officially have started over, Randy Moss now the latest to be cast aside as the Patriots seek to reclaim the magic and karma that made them the preeminent franchise in football.
Today, as much as another day in recent Patriots history, there is suddenly a great deal to talk about, the Patriots having traded receiver Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings following a 41-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Monday night. Coach Bill Belichick now has completely taken control of his football team, with the long-term in mind, fully investing in Patriots youth and rebuilding the Patriots in his own image.
Richard Seymour? Gone. Adalius Thomas? Gone. Laurence Maroney? Gone. And that is really just the beginning. Now Moss is on his way out following a game in which he did not make a single reception, amid a barrage of reports about his unhappiness, about a confrontation with Belichick, about some very un-Patriot-like behavior at a time when the Pats are trying to build something.Let’s be entirely fair about this. The Patriots knew what Moss was when they brought him here and they know what he is now. The other things are what have changed. During his career with the Patriots, Moss played in all 51 regular season games and caught exactly 50 touchdown passes. Overall, he had 259 receptions for 3,904 yards. He did everything he was supposed to do and more, and Belichick wasn’t complaining about him when Moss and Tom Brady were lighting the league on fire in the fall of 2007.
But today, the simple truth is that the Patriots don’t need Moss like they used to, if only because the priorities and objectives have changed. The Patriots probably are not going to the Super Bowl this year, not with that defense, and they already have secured Brady to a contract extension. (Convenient, eh?) Chances were that the Patriots were going to part ways with Moss at the end of this season, anyway, and there were those of us who believed before this news that it was worth starting the season with him even if Moss did not finish it here.
And so now he’s gone. In the short term, the Patriots will be worse off because of it. Patriots propagandists will point to Monday’s 41-14 victory over the Dolphins and somehow use it as evidence that the Patriots can score 41 without a single reception from their gifted receiver, but we all know that such arguments are deceiving. The Patriots offense drove for one touchdown against Miami, the score coming in the third quarter of what was then a 20-14 game. It was a critical drive. But the rest of the Patriots touchdowns were produced by their special teams or a sloppy Miami passing attack – and yes, a Patriots defense that did make a few plays.
The Patriots are going to miss Moss’ talent.
But what they will not miss, at least in 2010, is an attitude that might have started to deteriorate.
Remember Monday night? Take a good look at the replays of Brandon Tate’s 103-yard kickoff return, particularly as it pertained to the sideline. While Brady was raising his arms in exaltation, Moss stood behind the quarterback, just over Brady’s shoulder, expressionless. Maybe that meant something. Maybe it didn’t. And as Belichick bounced around the sideline late in the game, exchanging handshakes and hugs with one Patriots player after the next, his handshake with Moss was rather businesslike and ordinary. Moss didn’t get the Mangini treatment, but he didn’t get the Bruschi one, either.
Yesterday, according to Comcast SportsNet, Belichick and Moss "had words" in the wake of Monday’s game, the first of Moss’ career in New England in which he did not have a single catch. He was targeted just once. According to the Boston Herald, Moss requested a trade following the Week 1 win over Cincinnati, a game in which Moss had five catches for 59 yards but did not score a touchdown. Moss has caught four passes since, nine on the year overall, and maybe it says something that he did not score in either of the Patriots’ two most resounding victories this season.
In the other two games – a loss at the Jets and uninspiring win over Buffalo – Moss had at least one touchdown in each game and three scores total.
At the beginning of this season, of course, Moss issued a rather long address in Foxborough, where he assured all listeners that he had no intentions "to make trouble." In the end, the guy probably just couldn’t help himself. At a time like this, we are all wise to beware of propaganda and smear campaigns because we all know these things tend to be polarizing. Moss was the same player three years ago that he is now, but the Patriots are simply not the same team. They are using him differently. And in some cases, clearly, they are barely using him at all.
If Moss can’t take joy in the victories – if the touchdowns mean more to him – then he was not the right guy for Belichick in the first place. Belichick should have known that, so maybe the coach got swept up in pursuing history, too.
For lots of reasons, Monday’s victory had significant meaning. The Patriots beat a legitimate division opponent, on the road, and they dominated the second half. Some disturbing trends were at least temporarily discredited. To the purest of the Patriots – Belichick, Brady, Vince Wilfork – the victory over the Dolphins clearly meant more than just another regular season win. The Patriots have had plenty of September victories over the years. They didn’t react to all of those like they did on Monday.
Obviously, Belichick is no fool. For all of the criticisms and charges that have been levied at the coach over the years, Belichick almost always has operated with the best interests of his football team. In this case, he is obviously sacrificing the short term for the long. If Belichick thought the Pats were a Super Bowl contender, as they were in 2007, he would have tolerated Moss, continued to coddle him, gotten him the ball. Instead, he is doing the opposite. And he is also doing it during a bye week, following a resounding victory, on an occasion when Belichick has as much leverage as he has had in some time, when the move can be swallowed, digested and discharged before the Patriots play another game.
Randy Moss’ time in New England, like that of Corey Dillon’s, was going to come to an end sooner or later.
In this case, it only appears to have come a little sooner that one might have thought.
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