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Patriots’ moves worth the plunge

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By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / July 29, 2011

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Did you really think Bill Belichick was going to sit back and do nothing?

Really?

Have you learned nothing the past 12 years?

Well, if you didn’t then you have to return your blue Tom Brady No. 12 jersey pronto.

A day after Patriots fans grumbled at the lack of noise coming out of One Patriot Place during the most frenzied transaction period in NFL history, Belichick traded for the most talented defensive lineman in the league (Albert Haynesworth), and the receiver who over the past 10 years ranked second and third, respectively, in yards and receptions (Chad Ochocinco).

Boom.

Can you hear them now?

Of course you can. And so can the rest of the league.

It’s hard to imagine a team making more waves with two transactions than the Patriots did - and they might not be done - even if the Jets land cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to go along with the re-signing of receiver Santonio Holmes.

If this were New York, or some place that needed to sell tickets, then that would be great. Give them the award for the most “OMG tweets’’ of the offseason and we can all go home.

But nobody cares about that. The only things that matter in the NFL - especially inside Gillette Stadium - are wins and Super Bowl titles.

Does acquiring Haynesworth and Ochocinco get the Patriots closer to their ultimate goal?

Maybe.

Were those moves worth a shot considering the Patriots only had to surrender three late-round picks and no big money?

Absolutely.

Let’s start with the known quantity.

Ochocinco improves the Patriots’ offense from the get-go. At 33, he is no longer the burner he once was, and isn’t the type of home run threat that will scare defenses, but he gives Brady more options.

Two AFC pro personnel directors agreed that Ochocinco is still an upper-echelon receiver.

He won’t blow by anyone on a 9-route (fade), but Ochocinco has the kind of short-area quickness the Patriots’ attack is predicated on. In that regard, the 6-foot-1-inch Ochocinco is like a taller and more durable Deion Branch. And Ochocinco is a great route runner with top-notch hands. He is fearless over the middle and will win the in-breaking routes against tight coverage.

The Jets showed the way to clamp down on the Patriots’ vertically challenged passing attack in the playoffs. Ochocinco doesn’t solve that problem, but he does make the Patriots more effective horizontally. That’s where this offense has evolved. The Patriots use every inch of the 53-yard-wide field by attacking the entire width. That forces defenses to spread out, which produces holes for Brady to pick apart and the running backs to slice through.

Remember how limited the Patriots’ offense would be going against Darrelle Revis and, possibly, Asomugha? The Patriots can now counter with Wes Welker, Branch, Ochocinco, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and sneak Brandon Tate or Taylor Price in there to catch people napping deep.

Don’t worry about Ochocinco’s act. He may be the greatest self-promoter in the game, but it’s harmless. Ochocinco loves the game and works tirelessly at it. He will not be a problem after being let out of Bengals jail.

We’re not willing to say the same about New England’s other acquisition.

Haynesworth is 6-6 and 335 pounds. Coming out of the University of Tennessee after his junior season in 2002, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.78 seconds, an absurd time for a man his size.

But he slipped to 15th overall and the Titans for a reason. And it wasn’t for lack of talent.

Packers center Scott Wells used to go up against Haynesworth every day in practice as college teammates. Wells likes to tell the story about how when Haynesworth was a sophomore, the offensive line coach was so angry with how his unit was getting abused for three straight days that he asked his center what they could do to stop Haynesworth.

“Look, when he wants to play, good luck, because nobody can block him,’’ Wells said at the time. “That’s the deal.’’

Whether Haynesworth wants to play has been the question that has dogged him since he stepped on a football field.

“I used to tell him during his last year in college and then his first couple years in the league his biggest problem then was his attitude - when he wanted to play, you could tell on film,’’ Wells said while Haynesworth was in the middle of his monster ’08 season with the Titans (41 solo tackles, 8 1/2 sacks). “He’s definitely playing every down now. He doesn’t take any plays off. And that’s what is helping him out. That’s why he is playing at such a high level. He’s one of the best in the league, there’s no doubt.’’

And that was about the last time Haynesworth decided he wanted to play.

What changed? His bank account, which swelled with the four-year, $48 million contract (the final three years are at ridiculous salaries that would never be paid) with the Redskins that paid him nearly $35 million in the first two seasons.

What did the Redskins get for that money? Nothing. He played 20 games, had six 6 1/2 sacks, and caused innumerable headaches on and off the field. Haynesworth got paid and quit on everyone.

“He can do almost anything he wants. He doesn’t want to do anything. To me, that’s the issue,’’ Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett told ESPN Radio this year. “He just didn’t want to play in this scheme. He didn’t want to play in the 3-4. It got to the point where he said, ‘I don’t want to play first- and second-down nickel. I just want to play third-down nickel.’ Oh my God, you’re relegating yourself to 10-15 snaps a game. Then after that, he didn’t want to do the blitzes, he just wanted to rush.’’

That’s the last interaction Haynesworth had with an NFL coach until he walked into Gillette Stadium last night. He was suspended to finish off last season. That’s what Belichick will be dealing with.

It was one thing for Belichick to take the headaches that running back Corey Dillon and Randy Moss created elsewhere. Deep down, those guys loved the game and had something to prove.

How can you want to prove anything if you’ve never truly cared?

If Belichick can somehow push the right buttons - and no one is better - then Haynesworth can be a force in New England. A four-man line of Vince Wilfork, Haynesworth, Mike Wright, and Ty Warren would be dynamic and certainly help to bring much-needed pressure against the quarterback. Don’t worry about the 3-4 thing. The Patriots play more than 50 percent of the time in a four-man line in nickel and dime, and likely will play more 4-3 in their base.

And if Haynesworth no longer wants to play, then you cut him. The only possible harm would be if this was the Patriots’ lone move to improve the pass rush (it may not be - Matt Roth is still out there) and Haynesworth flops, then the defense is back where it started.

But, yes, Haynesworth and Ochocinco were worth the roll of the dice since they did not cost much.

Whether they make a difference for these Patriots, that’s the only thing we’ll be listening for.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard.

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