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Green party

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 21, 2010 06:10 PM

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Thumbnail image for 0920moss.jpg1. If only the game could have ended right there, with Randy Moss's daring one-handed escape from Revis Island. I suppose in one sense, it did.

Moss's grab was the last meaningful highlight for the Patriots, who instead aired what looked like their Worst of 2009 reel in the second half. There was that old familiar inability to get off the field on third down, the inability to run the ball, the inability to make an inexperienced quarterback commit a turnover, the inability to involve other receivers besides Moss, the sad Bill O'Brien Ballad of Third-And-8. Throw in some first-half lowlights -- a wasted first drive, a shanked field goal, and some mindless penalties, and the only way it could have been worse for Pats fans is . . . well, I guess if Revis had entirely shut down Moss, and we had to listen to that jabber too all week.

In the days after the loss, there's been a bit of overreaction to the outcome. Losing to the cocky, yappy "Hard Knocks" Jets -- and having them look like the fierce, efficient team the Patriots were in their heyday -- was annoying after the optimism brought about by the Week 1. And it was worse to see those old flaws carry over into a new season.

But this is not the same old team, despite Sunday's ugly outcome might suggest. The offense will be more potent and diverse than it was a year ago.

The defense has been remodeled in a very short window of time, and the relatively easy victory over the Bengals disguised the reality that the defense is going to be a work in progress.

The Patriots were lousy on Sunday. But it's just one loss, one to a rival you'd love to silence (never have I rooted for Ray Lewis to shut someone else up until last week) but also one to a team that isn't a particularly good matchup for them right now.

I remain certain that the 2010 Patriots are a fine team that will get better, perhaps significantly so if Patrick Chung, Brandon Spikes, and Devin McCourty continue to blossom the way we believe they will.

The Jets? They have their second straight Week 2 Super Bowl title. I suppose congratulations are in order.

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2.
It's tough to argue the tight ends were underutilized when Aaron Hernandez had six catches for over 100 yards in the first half. Hernandez is two games into his Patriots career and he's already had as many 100-yard games as Ben Watson did in five-plus seasons, one. But . . . well, for whatever reason, they were underutilized, maybe not so much the breathtakingly quick Hernandez, a wide receiver in a tight end's clothing, but certainly Rob Gronkowski, who had just one catch for 14 yards.

There was one play, a little more than four minutes into the third quarter, when Brady rushed a throw a bit and underthrew Gronkowski down the right seam. Wilson broke up the pass, but had Brady been on target, there was no doubt Gronkowski would have made the catch. Wilson looked like a kid trying to climb a tree while busting up the pass.

That was one of the Patriots' clear matchup advantages on the Jets, and they should have taken advantage of it.

The days of Sam Aiken running a fly pattern with his eyes closed as a third option are gone. Brady has more weaponry this season. He needs to trust it.

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finnelvispatterson.jpg3. I'll have to credit my buddy Gary Dzen for the line of the week regarding Darius Butler's abysmal Sunday:

"I thought the Patriots traded Ellis Hobbs."

Actually, that's probably unfair; I can't recall Hobbs ever playing that poorly for an entire game. (Don't give me Super Bowl XLIV. Hobbs played a very good game right up until the scheme left him out to dry.)

I was thinking more along the lines of Antonio Langham circa 2000, or, on an retro NFL scale, Elvis "Toast" Patterson. When a cornerback has a bad day at the office, we all know about it.

Butler's performance did leave me a bit puzzled about a couple of things. He's small, but he's a good tackler, a tough kid, both quick and fast, and it seems like it would be playing to his strengths to let him be aggressive in coverage.

Yet there he is, wasting away in Cantyville, lined up seven yards off the receiver on third and 6. I'm as clueless as, oh, let's say Michael Bishop when it comes to identifying defensive schemes, but it seems like the Patriots corners aren't always put in the best position to succeed.

As far as a broader puzzlement goes: How the hell did the Patriots ever win with Earthland Moreland, Hank Poteat, and Troy Brown sharing time in their defensive backfield? And what has changed since then that has caused more talented defensive backs to struggle? I know, different players, different coaches, different time.

I'll take down the Super Bowl photos in the hallway now.

4. Even before the news that he's likely to miss a game or two, I wasn't among those who thought the Jets' in-game injury report should have said this:

Darrelle Revis -- out for the rest of the game (bruised pride)

He's a terrific player who is currently paying the price for missing training camp. (Funny how that price always seems to be a hamstring.)

But he's also a bit overrated, at least when it's suggested that three-plus seasons into his career he's already one of the all-time greats at his position.

Is he reminiscent of a certain other cornerback from Alquippa, Pa., Ty Law? I can see that. But anyone who speaks of him in the same breath as Mike Haynes had better learn to do something Revis has already mastered: backpedal.

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5.
Despite Brady's annoying dependence on him -- annoying, of course, being the word choice only when the connection is unsuccessful -- I genuinely hope the Patriots sign Randy Moss for two or three more seasons.

There are reasons for concerns -- the mysterious back injury that has bugged him for a couple of seasons now, the fact that he's pretty one-dimensional considering he is as freakishly talented as any receiver ever to play the game, and I'm sure his detractors could come up with more.

Still, it's a risk worth taking. Great receivers age better than conventional wisdom suggests -- look at the names ahead of Moss on the all-time receiving yards list, and don't tell me you knew Isaac Bruce is second? And unless you happen to think Brandon Tate or Julian Edelman can be a No. 1 (we foresee bright futures for both, but unlikely), the Patriots will use a first-rounder on a receiver (unlikely), or you miss the days of Doug Gabriel and Reche Caldwell (unlikely, unless you are completely insane).

Besides, Moss is fun, and that matters in some relevant way. If there was anything to take from his already legendary 2,776-word speech/Q&A/mission statement after the Bengals game, it's that he wants to be here. I was surprisingly pleased that most of the media picked up on that message, that it wasn't lost among the "me's" and "I's" after a meaningful victory.

Moss recognizes that he's in the best situation of his career, and he doesn't want that to change. I appreciate that about him. And beyond his desire to be a Patriot or the highlights he provides on the field, he's just a wholly unique personality. He's weird. That's not the first time that's been said about a genius in his or her particular field.

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6. One other thing I like about Moss? Well, I'm no Tim Gunn, as you can probably tell every time I bust out one of my periwinkle Kohl's specials on "Globe 10.0," so take it for what it's worth when I say I completely approve of Moss's postgame press conference sartorial style. He looks like he snapped up everything Big Papi was planning on dropping off at Goodwill.)

* * *

milloytrophy.jpg
7. One of my favorite Patriots photos. One of my favorite players, despite that much of what Lawyer Milloy accomplished here was obscured by the feats of his superior replacement, Rodney Harrison.

So I took notice when Tedy Bruschi compared Patrick Chung to Milloy after the second-year safety's 16-tackle performance against the Bengals.

(While Chung was one of many Patriots who struggled to contain Dustin Keller Sunday, he had five solo tackles and announced his presence with authority on a number of occasions. Hopefully, he can teach Brandon Meriweather a trick or two.)

If anyone is qualified to make such a statement, it is Bruschi. He was drafted the same year as Milloy, 1996. They shared the same huddle for six years, played in a pair of Super Bowls together, saw the peaks (Bill Parcells), valleys (the franchise erosion under Pete Carroll), and the peaks again (the second Belichick season) together.

Chung, fast, relentless, and far more clued in than Tebucky Meriweather, is possibly my favorite player to watch on this defense already.

Hearing Bruschi compare him to Milloy only enhances my expectations of what a devastating force he could be.

* * *

8. Wes Welker said earlier this week that it will take him at full year to feel like his old self again following his knee surgery in February. Even when it became apparent that Welker was going to return much sooner than anticipated, I was concerned he might struggle upon his comeback because his game was so dependent upon his uncanny cutting ability.

I have seen nothing to suggest that Welker is anything less than his usual virtually unstoppable self in the slot -- he's on pace for 112 catches, and he already has three TDs, one fewer than he had last year and as many as he had in 2008.

The only bit of evidence that might suggest he's not quite Vintage Wes yet is his Marv Cook-like 7.3 yards-per-catch average, but we are more than willing to chalk that up to a small sample-size and the fact that three of his 14 receptions have ended in the end zone.

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9. I guess I've put it off long enough. I mean, what do you say about today's Kevin Faulk news that any Patriots fan with a reasonable recollection of the last dozen years doesn't already know?

The Patriots' most versatile offensive player has a torn ACL. It's fair to assume -- though not absolutely certain until he goes on IR -- that his final play of the season came Sunday against the Jets. He's the Patriots' best change-of-pace runner, best pass-blocking back, best receiver out of the backfield . . . he's essentially irreplaceable in three different roles, and losing a smart, disciplined veteran on the heels of a particularly frustrating Sunday only adds to the gloomy mood.

It's not quite devastating -- we reserve that for future Hall of Fame quarterbacks who see their seasons wiped out before the first quarter of the first game of the season is complete -- but it's pretty damn close.

How many players will it take to replace the Swiss Army knife of their offense? The backfield is already depleted. Even with the admission that we don't know what we don't know, I still can't believe they gave Laurence Maroney away with three over-30 backs on the roster. Does the Danny Woodhead era begin? Do they give Julian Edelman an expanded role? Hell, does anyone know what J.R. Redmond is up to these days?

* * *

10. As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

finnmarionbutts.jpgAfter what happened to Faulk, it's tempting to howl that the Patriots need to bring in another running back. And maybe they do, though I remain a believer in a healthy Fred Taylor. But that running back should not be helmet-heaving Brandon Jacobs, a dented truck with no tread left on his tires who averaged 3.7 yards per carry last year and is at 3.3 in a shriveling role this year. They've already had Marion Butts once.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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