Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Moss at a crossroads

On a snowy Wednesday morning, Patriots fans awoke to find an unfortunate news flash. Four team members had been sent home for the day (i.e. banned from practice) by Bill Belichick for showing up late to an 8 a.m. meeting. The players were linebackers Gary Guyton, Adalius Thomas and Derrick Burgess, and...

Randy Moss.

The inclusion of #81 was the most surprising. Moss is a team captain, and has produced more highlights than anyone not named Tom Brady. And it's important to give Randy a break, considering that the weather was absolutely deplorable, and traffic was likely a mess regardless of where people were coming from.

A report even said that one player called to let a team official know he was delayed. Considering how serious Moss has been about the well-being of the team, it's quite possible he was that player.

But we can ponder the effect a statement like this will have on Moss. Fact: He's been taken out of games recently. Fact: His past reactions to team slumps has been to disappear.

Fact: With a chance to erase those worries off the minds of New England fans, he didn't get off to a good start.

Moss should know that a disciplinary stand by Belichick, this one included, is hardly ever personal. Bill has his rules, and they are etched in stone. If you abide by them, you get to practice and play. If you don't, go home. Nobody gets preferential treatment, and that's true whether you're Isaiah Stanback or Tom Brady, Rob Ninkovich or Randy Moss.

Moss has two roads he can go down. One is to take this in stride, to learn that Belichick won't cut him any corners. He can use it as a learning experience, leave the house 20 minutes earlier and set an example for a team that will be looking for him to provide leadership during the most important four-game stretch of the season.

The Patriots will need Randy Moss to give it his all the rest of the way. He could start at 8 a.m. Thursday.

The other road? Do what he would have done if Dennis Green or Mike Tice in Minnesota, or Norv Turner in Oakland tried to do this. He could pout, get angry and decide that he just doesn't feel like making that much of a commitment. He could finally appease the naysayers who have just been waiting for him to implode since he came to Foxboro in April of 2007.

It's unfair for us to assume Moss will take the second road. He has been a great fit since leaving Oakland, has gained Brady's trust, and has transitioned effortlessly from enigmatic talent to role model and clubhouse leader. We should be shocked if Moss makes this a far bigger problem than it is.

But there are still people out there waiting for the old Randy Moss to resurface. Here is a chance for the new Randy Moss to prove them wrong again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

How good are the Saints?

No need to go into Monday night's debacle. The Patriots lost to a clearly superior (at this point, at least) Saints team, featuring an extraordinarily explosive offense.

The question is, how explosive?

New Orleans ripped the Patriots defense for 38 points, giving them 407 points through 11 games, an average of 37 points per contest exactly.

The record? That would be 589 points and 36.8 per game, set by - you guessed it - the 2007 Patriots. So it begs the question: how does this Saints squad stack up against the record-setting attack New England employed en route to a 16-0 season two years ago?

Contrary to the opinion of various experts, this Saints squad appears to hold the edge. New Orleans has four top-notch receivers (Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and Jeremy Shockey), all of whom had their moments Monday night, an intimidating trio at running back (Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell and Reggie Bush), and a quarterback in Drew Brees who has the perfect mix of brains and physical gifts to conduct this elite orchestra of talent.

Not to slight that Patriots team, which saw Tom Brady (50 touchdown passes) and Randy Moss (23 touchdown receptions) set records no one on this Saints team will break this year. But New England was unbalanced over the season. Many of those points came early on. In a stretch from weeks 6-11, the Patriots put up 48 points (on Dallas), 49 points (on Miami), 52 points (on Washington), 24 points (on Indianapolis) and 56 points (on Buffalo).

That Buffalo victory was the turning point, as the Patriots went from awe-inspiring to merely efficient. The rest of the season went: 31 points (against Philadelphia), 27 points (against Baltimore), 34 points (Pittsburgh), 20 points (N.Y. Jets), 28 points (Miami) and a final 38-point outburst against the New York Giants. Four of those victories were by 10 or fewer points, three were by a field goal.

Furthermore, that Patriots team was one-dimensional compared to this Saints team, or to other offensive juggernauts in recent memory such as the 2004 Indianapolis Colts, 2001 St. Louis Rams or 1998 Minnesota Vikings (whose record the Patriots broke).

New England had no running game to speak of. It was Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris, and when Morris went on injured reserve during the season, there was hardly any cause for concern. It was Brady to Moss, Welker, Donte' Stallworth or Jabar Gaffney. All the time.

Those other teams had more weapons to stop. In 2004, Manning was throwing to Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley, en route to 49 touchdown passes, but he was also handing off to Pro-Bowler Edgerrin James. In 2001, Kurt Warner threw for 36 touchdowns and 4,830 yards to Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Ricky Proehl or Az-Zahir Hakim. He also had future Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk in the backfield, the previous year's MVP.

Here's how I would rank the top offenses of the past 11 years:

1. 1998 Vikings
2. 2009 Saints
3. 2007 Patriots
4. 2004 Colts
5. 2001 Rams

Why the Vikings? Pure depth. A reborn Randall Cunningham had two of the greatest receivers in history to throw to. Cris Carter caught everything, and paired excellently with an explosive rookie named Randy Moss. Robert Smith made the Pro Bowl as a dangerous option at running back. The Vikings went 15-1, won every game at home, and came within a fluke miss by kicker Gary Anderson of going to the Super Bowl.

The ill fate of the '98 Vikings highlights an interesting trend. Each of the high-octane offenses mentioned above got tripped up short of the ultimate goal, with the '01 Rams and '07 Patriots falling one victory short of Super Bowl triumph.

Will the Saints show that offense can win in February? Stay tuned.