Randy Moss finished Sunday’s game with a single, 16-yard catch that ended with a fumble. Another Brady pass intended for Moss was intercepted.
And if you asked the Panthers what their game plan was, it’s simple. They helped whoever was covering Moss early in the game with a safety. Then, once he was frustrated, they no longer needed to. Because by then, it was Game Over for No. 81.
“We knew he was going to shut it down,” Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble told me after the game. “That’s what we wanted to do him. That’s what we did. … He’d just give up a lot … Slow down, he’s not going deep, not trying to run a route. You can tell, his body language.”
Gamble continued … “I know everyone who plays against him, they can sense that. Once you get into him in the beginning of the game, he shuts it down a little bit.”
Gamble wasn’t alone in his thoughts.
“You get physical with him, and I don’t want to say he quits, but he kind of doesn’t run the routes the way they’re supposed to be run,” safety Chris Harris told me. “If you get a jam on him, he’ll just ease up. He had the one catch, and he fumbled. … We stayed on top of him. We were not gonna let him catch a deep pass. That’s his game. If he can’t get it going, he gets out of sync.”
And so remains Moss’s reputation. Beat him early, see you later, Randy. The seminal moment of Sunday’s dicotomy between Moss and Wes Welker came in the third quarter. On Welker’s 100th catch of the season, Panther safety Charles Godfrey knocked the slot receiver senseless. Did Welker give at all? Nope. He popped to his feet, and caught four more balls on the game-turning, 96-yard touchdown drive.
“They’re two different breeds,” Gamble said. “Welker’s just a tough, hard-nosed guy. He got hit and he got back up. I can’t see Moss getting hit, catching slants, getting banged around, and getting back up.
“I respect Wes’ game. He’s going over the middle all the time, getting hit, that’s the majority of his catches, linebackers ready to hit him. And he gets hit, gets right back up.”
And so, as the second half ensued, the Panthers started to zero in on Welker — leaving Moss largely to be covered as any other receiver would be. Because they felt, at that point, that 81 had checked out.
So if you asked any of the Panthers’ DBs, it was pretty obvious to them: Welker’s a far tougher cover than Moss is.
“He’s a backyard football player,” Harris said of Welker. “He runs his routes, like we used to play4 in the streets ? If I’m on the left side of you, I’m gonna break to the right. If I’m on the right side of you, I’m gonna break to the left. He does a great job doing it.”
As for Moss, the first ball thrown his way told Carolina what it needed to know about his effort. Gamble said that Moss was lazy with his route, telegraphed an out-cut, and that allowed him to break on and pick it off. And not soon later, the Panthers knew they had him for good.
Gamble said, “We know from watching film on Moss, once you get him out of the game early, he’s gonna shut it down.”