"Emmitt Smith was like that. You watch him run, you get the end zone film, he’s got the ball and you’re saying, ‘There’s no hole there,’ and he finds four or five yards out of it. He sets up a block, squirts through, gets his pad down and it’s second and five. Where’s that yardage? We had this defended great, there’s no place to go and he …
"So some of those runs, some of those three-, four-yard runs that those great backs make, they’re some of the best runs I’ve ever seen. Barry Sanders, that guy could gain four yards and it would be a spectacular play. It’s not just the 80-yarders, it’s the ones when there’s nothing there and the guy creates a four-, five-yard gain out of literally nothing — three or four guys miss blocks, but he finds some way to take what little there is and make something out of it."
As for Moss, to understand what he's able to do in the Patriots offense, you have to understand the complexity it presents a receiver.
Every time a receiver lines up, there are multiple routes he has to be ready to run, based on the coverage, the defense's alignment, the pressure. Digesting that from one spot is hard. Being able to do in multiple positions -- At split end (the "X"), flanker (the "Z"), from the slot -- is even tougher.
"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.
"As far as he’s evolved, it’s just playing in a different offense and doing all those things – running different routes, being in different alignments, working with Tom [Brady], then Matt [Cassel], then Tom again, of course timing and adjustments and things like that. A lot of the routes he runs are adjustable routes. It depends on where the defenders are, what he does, whether he goes inside or outside, or whether he goes deep or hooks up. "
And then there's ability to do it physically in different spots.
"It’s hard to play on the outside of a formation without a lot of speed because you don’t really threaten the vertical part of the field for those guys; they sit on you and don’t have very many routes," Belichick said. "It’s hard to play in the inside part of the field without some quickness to find those spaces because — usually, when you line up in the middle of the field — there is at least one guy, if not two, that are on top of the formation that are deep. So it’s hard to run by them because they’re already so far back there.
"Again, it’s being instinctive. Like a basketball player, knowing when to pull up, when to drive to the hoop, when to pull up for the jump shot, when he can make it to the basket and when he can’t and when to pull out. It’s all that stuff. "
Moss, you might remember, was a pretty good basketball player back at Rand High in West Virginia. Mr. Basketball, in fact, in that state, even with a future NBA player, in Jason Williams, as a teammate.
But it's pretty clear, from listening to Belichick, how football, really, was always his calling.