That didn’t take long. Of all the high profile Patriots to leave as free agents or get traded away/cut amidst contract disputes under the Belichik/Pioli era, I think all but two of them (Vinatieri, Samuel) would admit today they would have rather made it work with the Patriots. The obvious president of The Grass Isn’t Greener Fan Club is Deon Branch, followed in no particular order by Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Damien Woody, and probably Richard Seymour. Now, judging by his post-game monologue Sunday night it didn’t take long for Randy Moss to realize the error in his ways either. Now NFL.com first reports this afternoon that Randy Moss has been reportedly waived by the Vikings. The quick fan reaction would be that Moss, if given the choice, would want to return to New England (assuming he was to clear waivers). However for the Patriots organization, having rediscovered the Patriot Way in the first 3 games of the post-Moss era, the decision to bring back Moss is easy, don’t do it.
Losing our way. With Randy Moss passing thru Foxboro last Sunday for the first time post-trade I found myself trying to assign some sort of value to his time here. Notwithstanding the ridiculous catches, and arguably the greatest single season offensive showcase in NFL history, the jury is still out on the Freak’s net impact on the Patriots during his 3.5 year stay in Foxboro. We can debate Randy Moss the person and player all day, but reviewing his tenure solely along these two lines is an incomplete evaluation. Instead, I think the debate should be centered on #84’s impact on the “Patriot Way”. My thought process here is directly influenced by the fact that in the three games post-Moss (BAL, SD, MIN) the Patriots have reverted back to the formula that won them three super bowls; bend but don’t break defense, timely offense, near-flawless game management and crisp execution when it matters. This formula produced a lot of ugly, grind it out, wins for the ’01-’04 dynasty. But following this era, somewhere along the way, the organization lost touch with the roots of this model.
Where did we go wrong? The team went into ’06 season, having lost David Givens and Deon Branch in the offseason, with the trio of Troy Brown, Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney as the top WR’s. The Pats lost to the Colts in the AFC Championship game that year, blowing a 21-3 lead en route to a 38-34 defeat. Had they not blown that lead, I am pretty sure they would have found a way to beat Lovie Smith and Rex Grossman in Super Bowl XLI. Instead of hoisting their 4th Super Bowl trophy of the decade, the organization entered the offseason determined to fill its void at wide receiver. These pursuits yielded Welker, Stallworth and most importantly Moss. And while Welker has been at least as impactful as Moss in his time here, it was the Moss acquisition, and all that came with it, that set in motion a deviation from what had made the Patriots so successful up to that point.
For better or worse? While it may be hard to conceive that the Patriots are better without Moss, his impact on the team’s offensive approach, and overall team identity, was a net negative. Obviously Moss is “freak” talent, and his ability to stretch a defense and attract a disproportionate amount of attention from the opposing defense (and coaching staff) on a weekly basis, cannot be understated. However, to me Moss is like the hot chick that looks great on your arm but does nothing to make you a better person. Sure Moss’ pure skills are unquestioned, and the product is flashier for the fans, but his actual value to the team is where he falls short. Randy’s game is hit or miss, and the offense with him in it took on this identity, reliant on big plays while losing touch of the steady and methodical execution that had previously defined them.
The ’07 Anomaly. While the ’07 regular season was a dominant run, come playoff time the new deep ball/quick-score style proved less conducive to playoff, and Belichick, football. Belichick is more comfortable in the grind it out, find a way to win style, confident he can overmatch 99% of NFL coaches in a chess-match of game planning and on the fly adjustments. Moss’ presence, and the allure of his talent, distracted Belichick from his core football philosophy. The ’07 Super Bowl is the most glaring example of Belichick, with the clearly superior team, getting out-game planned, out-adjusted and plain outcoached. I can’t help but think the presence of Moss, and his impact on the offense, created a false sense of confidence and complacency.
Blame it on Asante. Now, in fairness to Moss, if Asante Samuel had caught the damn ball vs. the NYG in Arizona in, or David Tyree hadn’t for that matter, the Monday-morning quarterbacking of the Moss Era would have a different tone, however for me his impact on the Patriot Way would still have the same conclusion. Moss’ skill-set, while incredibly intriguing to fans and fantasy owners everywhere, is overvalued when it comes to winning. Stretching a defense and running off the safety sounds likes a great asset to have, but name me a Super Bowl champion that required this skill set to win it all. Heck, outside of what it did for Percy Harvin’s fantasy stats, ask Minnesota how it worked it for them in their short-lived four game experiment.