THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Flagging this misstep as delay of gain

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By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / October 7, 2010

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The 2010 Patriots just got worse.

Before yesterday, the Patriots had the proverbial puncher’s chance to make a deep run in this year’s playoffs. On the heels of their 41-14 road thrashing of the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots had us thinking that anything was possible for this year.

Sure, the defense is young and a lot of talent has moved out of Foxborough in the last three years, but a 3-1 start, Tom Brady’s return to top form, and the ever-present genius of Bill Belichick gave us a reason to believe.

Now it’s all about the future. The Patriots are stacking draft picks like cordwood. In the 2011 draft, they will have Oakland’s No. 1 (in exchange for dumping Richard Seymour), Denver’s fourth-rounder (for dumping Laurence Maroney), and now Minnesota’s third-round pick (for Randy Moss). This means they’ll have two picks in each of the first four rounds.

Wow. Sounds like the 2014 Patriots will be a powerhouse when all these futures mature. Too bad Brady will be 37 years old.

Football fans love the future more than the present. Offered $5 million today, or $0 today with stock options that might be worth $10 million in three years, football fans would take the options. They’d gladly trade Albert Pujols for an 18-year-old high school pitcher who might wind up being Walter Johnson. They’d rather have a No. 1 pick than Kevin Durant.

Not me. I’m with the late George Allen. The future is now, baby. And the Patriots are not better now than they were Monday night in Miami.

Once again, we are reminded that the Patriots believe “the system’’ is more important than the talent. Who needs Moss when you have Tate, Ninkovich, and Chung? Emboldened by Monday’s impressive win — scoring 41 points without Moss catching a pass — Belichick is again telling Patriot players and fans that the vaunted machine can operate with any combination of parts. Players don’t matter. They are all replaceable (except Brady, of course). And just think how good the Patriots will be when they draft all of those players.

I hate it. The 2010 season just got far less interesting. The Patriots have lost their deep threat, the guy who drew all the safety coverage and made it possible for Wes Welker and the rookie tight ends to get open. Moss caught 50 touchdown passes in 51 games here. His one-handed grab against the Jets will probably wind up being the most memorable play of what now looks like a bland season.

And let’s not forget that drafting college players is an inexact science; the Patriots have only one player (kicker Stephen Gostkowski) from their 2006 draft.

The Patriots kissed Moss’s butt here for three years and four games. Was another 12 games (plus playoffs) too much to ask? Can Brady possibly be in favor of losing this weapon — for a third-round draft pick?

Randy Moss is a weird guy (“I think a lot of people here don’t want to see me do good’’). He is selfish, greedy, and capable of quitting at any moment. But he has skills unlike those of anyone the Patriots ever had, and he was a threat to do something sensational every time he lined up for a snap. He was Brady’s BFF the whole time he was here and was named a team captain a couple of times. He caught 23 touchdown passes in the revival season of 2007 when the Patriots went 16-0.

The negatives are real. Moss traditionally comes up small in the postseason, takes an occasional play (or game) off, and insults the organization by wearing headphones at a charity event.

When he was part of the New England “family,’’ the Patriot spin machine told us Moss was misunderstood. We were constantly reminded that his teammates love him. After Moss’s postgame meltdown on opening day, the club released “All Access’’ footage showing what a leader Moss is in the locker room.

Now it’s all different. He was a distraction. He wanted a contract extension. He wanted to be the marquee guy. He asked to be traded and the Patriots weren’t getting his best. He confronted quarterbacks coach Bill O’Brien at halftime of the Miami game.

ESPN’s Tedy Bruschi, a guy with pretty good ties to the locker room, said Patriot teammates were “frustrated with Randy’’ and that it was “time for him to go.’’ Another former teammate, ESPN’s Cris Carter, said, “Randy wants to be appreciated, and appreciation comes with a contract extension.’’

This is the same agent-driven garbage we got from Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz. Whatever happened to honoring the deal you signed? You know — play hard till it’s over, then talk about the next deal?

Sounds like Randy went all Manny on the Patriots at the end.

Sidebars are endless. Conspiracists are already posing the notion that the Patriots dealt Moss to the Vikings this week so he can beat the Jets Monday night. And let’s not forget that Moss will be back at Gillette with the Vikings on Halloween evening.

Perfect. Moss is the ultimate trick-or-treat athlete. Just don’t be tricked into thinking your football team is better today than it was last week.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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