LONGSHOTS: Pats will eventually be better without Moss
By†Dave Long email@example.com
So what do you think ó are the Patriots a better football team after trading Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings last week?
There were mixed opinions around New England, ranging from blind faith in Coach B to fury that theyíd give away a player of Mossís caliber for a measly third-round pick when no clear replacement is in sight. Especially given the desperation of the Vikings to get a wide out. And if you say they were right to do it, chances are youíll be accused by the self-proclaimed objective thinkers of drinking the In Bill We Trust Kool-Aid. After all, unless youíre bashing, youíre not telling it like it is.
Well, count me among those who think in the long run this is what the Patriots needed to do. And Iím not an In Bill We Blindly Trust guy on this either. I wrote on Jan. 14, 2010, it was time for the Moss era to end. I said then that along with a mediocre defense, their downfall in 2009 was the result of falling so in love with the pass that ďthey had become a finesse team, which is two steps from being soft.Ē And Iíve been on the play calling for over a year because by throwing to Moss and Wes Welker so much they had become very predictable, put themselves in far too many third-and-long situations, making it harder to convert on third down and Tom Brady more susceptible to turnovers like the four he had in the season-ending 33-14 rout by the Ravens.
I donít blame Moss for that. Itís just that in trying to take advantage of his unique skills they drifted from the identity they had when they were winning Super Bowls ó tough, gritty, grind-it-out football where you were never quite sure whoíd get the ball when they really needed a play. But I also acknowledge that doing it at this juncture leaves a rather large hole in the offense. Some say that makes them not as good as they were before the trade, which Iím not willing to concede just yet.
So letís examine why it might have been done and what the ramifications might be.
The Play-Calling: It will change with Moss gone, but it already had been trending in another direction. They have run the ball well in three of their four games, in part because the 188 double tight end formations theyíve already used is more than any team so far. And in the most important drive in the Miami win after the Dolphins answered the Brandon Tate TD return with an immediate score, they marched right back down the field for a TD in nine plays with seven coming on the ground. The change was already under way.
Whoíll Stretch The Field: This is a big one for the hand-wringers. Thatís the number-one answer from the folks who donít like the trade. In response Iíll ask: who stretched the field in the Super Bowl years? Answer: well, no one really. Although in 2004 David Patten (18.2), David Givens (15.6) and Bethel Johnson (17.4) all averaged more yards per catch than Mossís best year with the Pats of 15.3. But in the other Super Bowl years no one was above Mossís average, although in 2001 Tom Brady averaged 23 yards on his one catch. Guess that means theyíll try Brandon Tate and see what happens, although Iím wondering if that extra duty may take away what he does on kick-offs, where he has two scores already and is leading the league in yardage gained.
The Future Is Now: With Tom Brady at 33, some donít want to rebuild. They think the Pats should be going the George Allen route to get veterans to win now instead of stockpiling picks for future development. Only one problem with that: itís already under way because the defense got old as they went for it in 2007 and 2008. No getting around it. And besides, while George has the third-best winning percentage of all time, he never won the big one and I always wondered if the playoffs fades had anything to do with tired legs not being able to get the big play when needed. And these people also were for sending young Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury for Johann Santana a few years back. Howíd that work out?
Drew Bledsoe and Lawyer Milloy: The hand-wringers thought the season was over in 2001 when Bledsoe went down and the unknown back-up had to step in. In 2003 everyone went berserk when Coach B cut Milloy a few days before the season ó including me. How could they do that to a leader of the defense? Well, they had Rodney Harrison waiting back there, they switched rookie corner Eugene Wilson to safety and then got crushed 31-0 on opening day in Buffalo. Tom Jackson went on ESPN and said Coach B had lost the team, then they got hit with a rash of injuries in going to 2-2 before surviving them to win the next 15 straight. Itís not as clear now who steps in for Moss in the way Harrison stepped in for Milloy, but the point is, because of all the injuries, in no other sport are you asked to deal with sudden loss and adapt more than you are in football because of all the injuries. In both these cases they recovered to win the Super Bowl. And they went 11-5 the year they lost Brady to the knee injury and that was a bigger loss than Moss, donít you think? So theyíll survive his loss as well.
The Nomar Trade: I couldnít have been more wrong on this one. He was hitting over .300 at the time and a Red Sox icon, but it was classic addition by subtraction. Orlando Cabrera gave them the steadier fielding they needed and a happier persona than Nomarís demeanor, which had soured over contract issues ó sound familiar? It changed the dynamic and was the catalyst for the ride the team went on as they ended the 86-year curse. Not saying itís the same, but there are similarities.
Bridge Year: Theyíll never admit it and they wonít do what the Red Sox did in accepting their fate after losing two of three in Tampa at the end of August. But I think Coach B knows the defense isnít going to be consistent enough to be a serious Super Bowl threat this year ó so why not move Moss now for another high pick for next yearís draft?
In the long and probably short run this was the best thing to do as it forces them to play more power football, which is what they did before the O went Hollywood and the rings went to someone else.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Saturday Morning Sports from 11 a.m. to noon Saturdays on WGAM Ė The Game, 1250-AM in Manchester and 900-AM in Nashua.