logoby Dan Snapp

Randy Moss for a fourth-round pick. Nearly five months later, and the sound of it still begs disbelief.

Randy Freaking Moss for a fourth-round pick!

What were the Raiders thinking? Certainly they had to get rid of him, as the team was unhappy, he was unhappy, and his production didn’t merit  the burgeoning numbers on the remainder of his contract. But trading the most electrifying player of his era to the powerhouse Patriots for a measly fourth-round pick?

Heck, if they traded him to the Packers instead, Colts GM Bill Polian probably would have anted up a second-rounder himself to seal the deal.

Within weeks of the acquisition, former Raiders coach Art Shell and his erstwhile bed&breakfast owner-turned-offensive coordinator Tom Walsh were telling any who’d listen that Moss couldn’t run anymore. The once and future proprietor of the Seven-Step Drop Inn also told Ron Borges, “Randy Moss is a player whose skills are diminishing, and he’s in denial of those eroding skills.”

Eroding skills? Sounds like the words of a man who’s out of football.

Moss, of course, has turned Patriots football on its head, completely changing the team’s offensive dynamic. Before, the talk was about Tom Brady’s even distribution to multiple receivers. Today, Moss and Wes Welker each get about 27 percent of the looks. It’s not the “Randy Ratio” but it signals a significant change in New England. With 22 receptions, 403 yards, 5 touchdowns and three straight 100-yard games, he’s off to the best start of any receiver in Patriots history.

A great year for Brady used to be 28 TDs, 14  INTs, and a 63% completion rate. With 10 TDs, 1 pick, and a 79% completion clip through three games, he’s set to destroy his previous highs.

The big hypothetical – “What would happen if Brady had Peyton Manning’s weapons” – is being played out before our eyes. We knew Brady was great in a Joe Montana “All he does is win” vein, but never in a Dan Marino statistical one. What if he’s both? Moss is helping to show Brady at his true potential.
“It wasn’t the Moss of old,” Phil Simms told us during the opener against the Jets.

Moss had just broken open on a crossing pattern, then took in Brady’s pass for an 18-yard gain, leaving Simms’ partner Jim Nantz lunging for superlatives. “The Moss of old,” Simms argued, “Would have grabbed that and you would have been, ‘Annnnd that’s a touchdown.'”

Simms was right. Moss lacks that overdrive he possessed as a young player. It was obvious on that play, on the 33-yarder later down the right sideline, and even on his 51-yard score.

Even without the top-end speed, he’s still the best receiver on the field. He’s got it all: size, speed, hands, moves, smarts, leaping ability and still enough speed to get the job done as a deep threat. He’s caught 22 of the 24 balls targeted for him. And as Moss has showed each week on some of his more spectacular catches: even when he’s not open, he’s open.

His football IQ is what attracted Belichick, who noted Moss understands double coverage as well as any player in the league. “He attacks all three levels of the field — short, intermediate, deep,” Belichick said. “Any time a player puts multiple pressure points on a defense, it’s hard, it’s stress.”

So how would Bill Belichick defend Moss?

He had two recent opportunities – vs. the Vikings in 2002 and against the Raiders in 2005 – and enjoyed little success. The Patriots pressed Moss at the line, and double-covered him often, but Moss still had 13 catches for 222 yards and a TD over the two games.

The Pats easily won both, and maybe that’s the point. Maybe like Belichick’s “If Thurman Thomas runs for 100, we’ll win the game” pronouncement in Super Bowl XXV, the plan is to let Randy get his, but we’ll stop everything else.

But then that’s also the key behind Belichick bringing him to New England, where stopping everything else was already a chore.