by Christopher Price
The move is a simple one, really: Extend your elbows outward so your arms are at a 90-degree angle from the rest of your body. Put your hands back to back with your palms facing outward. Then, push your hands apart quickly.
For Randy Moss, it’s a touchdown celebration that signifies separation from a defensive back. But the move is much more than that — it’s a distinct shot at those who suggested the 30-year-old wide receiver was over the hill entering this season and was now unable to get the sort of separation from opposing defenders that had made him a world class wide receiver in the past. How’s that workin’ out for you?
It’s a move opposing coaches are now seeing with greater frequency, much to their chagrin.
“We didn’t have an answer for Randy Moss today,” said Indianapolis Head Coach Tony Dungy after Sunday’s game where Moss had nine catches for 145 yards and a touchdown in the 24-20 win over the Colts.
And while his touchdowns have become signature events punctuated by the separation shuffle, his coaches and teammates are becoming accustomed to it all. Even his impressive one-handed grab over the middle against Indianapolis — a pass that few receivers in the history of the Patriots’ franchise could have made — wasn’t a shocker for New England Head Coach Bill Belichick.
“I can tell you, though, standing out here at practice, anybody will tell you that’s not the first one,” Belichick said of the grab. “It’s not the 10th one. In fact, you saw it against — who was it there, Dallas or Miami or somebody? — in the end zone, where he just…
“Honestly, he does that on a pretty regular basis.”
The on-field numbers are staggering (56 catches, 924 yards, 12 touchdowns), but the impact stretched far beyond what he can do when he has the ball. He’s a persistent threat, a unique player who demands constant attention whenever he’s on the field. As a result, other wide receivers are benefiting — Wes Welker is on pace to shatter career-bests in receptions, yards and touchdowns, while fellow wideout Donte Stallworth and tight end Ben Watson aren’t far off pace to set personal bests of their own.
“You’ve got to pick your poison,” said Cleveland Head Coach Romeo Crennel of the New England passing game.
As for the whole “Moss won’t work in a Belichick system” argument, well, just ask his teammates how that’s going. In June, after spending just over a month with his new team, he accompanied them to the funeral of former Patriots defensive lineman Marquise Hill. On other teams, a star of such magnitude would get an extra locker to store more stuff. In Foxborough, he gets the same treatment as everyone else, storing his gear in the same space that practice squad wide receiver C.J. Jones gets.
Just as Moss continues to put separation between him and defensive backs, it’s appeared he’s put plenty of distance between his old rep as a franchise killer.
“I think everything that has been written and said about him is probably the complete opposite of what we’ve experienced,” said Brady of Moss. “He’s a great teammate, a great player. He’s very coachable. He’s selfless. He’s a great worker. He leads by example. He has a bunch of great qualities.”
STAT OF THE WEEK
32. Of the 602 total plays from scrimmage through nine games, the Patriots’ offense has registered just 32 negative plays, excluding kneeldowns.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“We’re 9-0 and it doesn’t really matter. What matters to us is January. Our goal is to win the AFC East and be in the best position we can be in going into the playoffs.” — Quarterback Tom Brady after Sunday’s game.
Christopher Price is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the Patriots since 2001 for Boston Metro. He’s served a contributor to ESPN.com, SI.com, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post and The Miami Herald. He’s written “The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower,” and can be reached at email@example.com.