Patriots' Moss-less offense an option play for Brady


Patriots' Moss-less offense an option play for Brady

By Mary Paoletti

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady met with the media as usual this Wednesday before Patriots practice.

Well, it wasn't quite the usual. For the first time in a long time, the quarterback stood in front of his own locker.

"Back home. Right where I belong,'' Brady said. "I feel good about being at my locker. I haven't been at my locker in a while. This is where I'm most comfortable."

The quarterback must make face time with expectant reporters -- it's just the way it goes. Doesn't mean that Randy Moss had to like it, though. Moss's locker, before he was traded back to Minnesota, was right next to Brady's. So every time the media wave rolled in, reporters and videographers and photographers crowded the area to document every word and breath that Brady uttered.

And Moss sometimes got stepped on. It drove the receiver crazy.

This season Brady moved up the line of lockers to give Moss some space. It was a goodwill gesture for a friend. But now that friend is gone and Brady is "back home."

It was an interesting point to make off the bat.

Ever since the report of a supposed confrontation between the QB and the now-moved Moss, there's been speculation on what kind of breakup he had with the team. If people wanted to draw conclusions of bitterness, they might read into the tone Brady set with the locker talk. They might put these comments about the offense under a microscope:

"You throw it to the guy that's open. I think that's what I've always tried to do,'' he said. "A guy like Wes Welker gets open a lot, so he gets the ball a lot. I don't think it's really a concerted effort to make sure everybody's got a catch coming out of a game. I don't think you've got to look to get every eligible skill guy four catches. I think the guys that are gonna get open are going to get the ball."

How can you not think back to the Jets game? Brady did make a concerted effort to get Moss involved in Week 2 and it was a disaster. The wideout caught just two of the passes he was targeted for and two attempts were picked off.

Two weeks later the execution changed. Drastically. Brady looked to Moss just once and they didn't connect. The Patriots' 41-14 win over Miami marked the first time Randy Moss didn't record a reception since November 19, 2006.

He was gone to Minnesota the next day.

Brady made no mention of Moss specifically when talking about the strengths of his remaining offensive arsenal. But he did stress his appreciation for versatility -- a trait that doesn't really describe Randy Moss.

"I don't want to ever feel like I'm out there hamstrung by the guys that are out on the field. The guys out there . . . I think the thing that's great is that they can do some different things,'' he said.

"Wes can do quite a few things as a route runner, so can Deion Branch, so can Brandon Tate, so can Aaron Hernandez, so can Rob Gronkowski, so can Julian Edelman. In certain offenses, 'This guy does this; this guy does this,' and I hear Coach Bill Belichick say those things when he's trying to coach our defense. That's not the kind of offense we want to be."

Was Brady feeling "hamstrung" by Randy Moss? Maybe. There be plenty of rumors swirling around for a while. Just don't ask the quarterback about it.

"I've moved on," Brady said. "We all have. I really don't want to talk about it anymore."

Some other talking points from TB12:

On roster moves impacting the week ahead:
"The roster's always had transition with players getting injured and players moving. I think it's something we're all used to. We put a good day of work in yesterday and I'm excited to see what we do this weekend. We've got a great challenge. I think all of us in this locker room know what kind of a beating we took from these guys last year. So we don't want that to repeat itself. "

On if he has a lasting memory of last season's playoff loss to the Ravens:
"I think we got manhandled by a team that's a damn good team. And I think everything we wanted to do going into the game we didn't do. Penalties, turnovers, couldn't convert on third down, couldn't control the tempo of the game. I've got a lot of respect for these guys; they play really hard, they're very well coached, they've got a physical front. Very emotional team. They play with energy and enthusiasm for what they're doing. You've got to be able to match that because once they get fired up it's tough to calm them down. "

On if that memory gives particular motivation for redemption:
"There's a lot of reasons for motivation and certainly, when a team gives it to you like they did, I think you're always anxious to get out there and play them again. We got a tough road. We're 3-1. We've done some good things this year but, consistently through the course of 60 minutes . . . we haven't put together a full 60-minute game yet and I think that's what it's going to take to get through these guys this week. There's no let-up in this team. There's not one area where there's a real weakness. They stop you, they score points . . . We've got to compete out there."

On how the offense will look:
"I don't care; whatever it takes to get the ball in the end zone. If we hand it off every play, I'm fine with that. We've got to be able to score points and scoring points comes down to executing well no matter what you call -- whether it's a deep throw or a short throw --those are always in the plan. You don't go into the game plan thinking, 'Oh, we're just going to throw a bunch of two-yard passes.' You always try to stretch the field and if we have guys open we're going to take advantage. "

On how will the offense be change without Moss:
"It's hard to say. Deion is here now and he'll probably have some different strengths than Randy. Randy can certainly do things well, but so can other guys. You guys see what they can do well if we can go out there and perform it. "

On whether or not Branch looks the same:
"I don't know. I haven't played with him in a while. He was reliable, consistent, tough, competitive . . . those are all the things that he really was. I wouldn't think he'd forget how to do those things. I think that's what he obviously enjoys. It's good to have him back."

On the "unspoken" connection he and Branch used to share:
"It'll always be there. I've thrown him thousands and thousands of footballs. I think if you pulled Troy Brown out of the announcer booth, or whatever he's doing these days in the media, and put some pads on him and I think I could throw him the football pretty consistently. The relationship I have with Deion on the field has always been a great one. I think there's always been a natural chemistry and I hope we'd be able to rely back on that a little bit. "

On if he felt the connection on Tuesday:
"Yeah. He looked the way he's always looked. He's an excellent player. I was trying to get Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to throw him the ball more, but maybe that was better for us that he didn't." Laughs

On the diversity of the offense:
"I think it's important for all the guys to be able to do different things in the offense and provide different threats so they can't say 'Oh, this guy's only going to catch these kinds of passes.' I think that one thing that's great our offense is that if they're open they're going to get the ball. I think they all know that so, line them up in different spots and see if they can get open. If they can, you throw it to them; if you can't, you go to the next guy. I know one of those guys is going to be open and it's my job to find him."

On whether or not the Patriots offense will be judged differently without Moss by opposing teams:
"I don't know. Go ask the guy in Baltimore and tell me what he says. I really have no idea how they're going to see us or what they're going to try and take away but every defense has its strengths and weaknesses. When you blitz, yeah, you get to the quarterback faster but if you miss a tackle it's a big play. When you do one, you give up the other. And that's the beautiful thing about football; trying to figure out what they're going to do when they're going to do it so you can take advantage."

On what he felt was the reason for the post-trade Moss-bashing:
"I don't know. Honestly, I didn't follow any of it. I know what I said and I wouldn't bash him. I don't think any of our teammates were bashing him. Were you guys bashing him? I wasn't."

On whether or not Moss was a negative influence in the locker room:
"No. Not at all.

"He and I get along great, we always have since the day he got here. He never made fun of my hair. All season everybody's making fun of my hair, but he never has."

On whether or not it was frustrating to initially lose Branch:
"Sure. He was a dynamic player for us in our offense and he really played big in so many big games. We had spent a lot of time together trying to get to know each other and right when we were starting to get all warmed up and lathered up, he got sent to Seattle. It's just kind of the way it's gone. And I think there are certain guys that came in that year that did a great job . . . Like I said, it's good to have him back and hopefully we can do some of those same things that he was doing for us before."

On the evolution of the system since Branch has gone and returned:
"Quite a bit. I said, 'Do you remember a lot?' Branch said 'Yeah, yeah, I got it. I know it.' And I said, 'Okay, what's this?' Branch said 'I don't know that one.' And I said, 'Well, that was one of the ones you should have known because I haven't even gotten to the stuff that you don't know yet.' Laughs I mean, there's a lot of recall. I'm sure it's like learning anything. He's a real smart guy, a real smart player so I don't think it's going to take him too long. Hopefully by Sunday."

On the toughness of Baltimore's defense:
"They create a lot of issues with their different packages and their blitz packages and where they line up. They do try to cause some confusion. We may move around a lot but they move around a lot and sometimes you want to settle yourself down to see what they're doing. And sometimes you're snapping the ball not quite sure if you got everything picked up but you gotta do the best you can do against a defense like this. They're one of the best defenses in the league and they've been that way for a long time."

On whether or not the Ravens defense will look different without Ed Reed:
"Yeah. I'm happy about that."

Mary Paoletti can be reached at Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Curran: Ravens are the Patriots' most bitter rival

Curran: Ravens are the Patriots' most bitter rival

Who has been the Patriots' greatest rival of the Belichick-Brady Era?

There are a few candidates: There's no franchise the team hates more thoroughly than the Jets. The Steelers, just because of franchise tradition, are in the mix but the Patriots have had their way in most of the big games with Pittsburgh. The Colts? It's kind of a big brother-little brother thing. The Broncos? Definitely. But no opponent has provided the gripping games and the mix of animosity and respect that the Ravens have over the past decade. 

The first truly memorable Ravens-Patriots game came in 2007. Brian Billick was in his final season as Ravens head coach and Baltimore -- with Kyle Boller at quarterback -- was on its way to a 5-11 season. But that Monday night epic against the unbeaten Patriots was one of the most gripping games of the Belichick era with the Patriots erasing a 24-17 deficit in the final eight minutes thanks to a Ravens meltdown that included defensive coordinator Rex Ryan calling costly timeouts and Ravens players throwing penalty flags. The Patriots won, 27-24, on a touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney with 44 seconds left. It was probably the hardest the Patriots were pushed en route to 16-0.

Since then, there was the never-to-be-forgotten 33-14 2009 playoff rout at Gillette, which was probably the low point of the Belichick Era. That was followed by a pair of 23-20 Patriots wins before -- the second of those being a stirring AFC Championship win in the 2011 playoffs when Sterling Moore’s pass breakup and a hooked field goal attempt sent the Ravens home whining. But the Ravens broke Gronk in that game and -- with him hobbling around in the Super Bowl against the Giants -- they came up short, 21-17.

Early in 2012, again in prime time, the Patriots let leads of 13-0 and 30-21 slip away as the Ravens won 31-30 on a 27-yard Justin Tucker field goal at the buzzer. It was the Replacement Ref Game, the nadir of the horrific stretch of time in which we got an eyeful of how bad officiating can really be (thanks, Rog!).

The two teams saw each other again in the 2012 AFC Championship and the Patriots saw a 13-7 halftime lead evaporate in a hail of Joe Flacco throws to Anquan Boldin as the Patriots got out-toughed in a 28-13 loss. Late in 2013, the Patriots gave the Ravens a tremendous 41-7 beating in Baltimore to usher the Ravens out of playoff contention. It was the best win of the year for New England.

And the 2014 AFC Divisional Playoff win for New England was one of the best playoff wins of Belichick Era. The Patriots twice erased 14-point deficits to win 35-31 at Gillette. The Ravens made a public show of complaining about the Patriots formation trickery and saying they’d take it up with the league. Tom Brady chastised the Ravens for not knowing the rules and Ravens coach John Harbaugh -- who’s got a haughty streak in him to say the least -- made sure the rule got changed then spent 2015 running trick formation plays recreationally.

More damaging was the private maneuvering of the Ravens.

Their coaching staff -- specifically special teams coach Jerry Rosburg -- was dropping dimes to the Indianapolis Colts, encouraging Indy to be on alert for football shenanigans, alleging the Patriots monkeyed with the K-ball usage. Harbaugh initially denied any involvement in the mess that ensued after the Colts alerted the league to that concern and the purported deflating of footballs which was “well known around the league.” After it was demonstrated that the Ravens had communicated with the Colts, Harbaugh and the Ravens released a statement trying to establish distance. 

As much as Baltimore wants to maintain its distance, the communication with Indy and the fact that “independent investigator” Ted Wells interviewed both Rosburg and Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees during the DeflateGate investigation shows that the Ravens weren’t just minding their own business in this whole thing.

This will be the first time the teams meet since all that went down and it will be interesting to hear this week if there’s any latent bitterness on the part of the Patriots who -- despite the on-field rivalry -- had a strong relationship with Baltimore at the ownership level with Steve Bisciotti, at the personnel level with Ozzie Newsome and George Kokinis and with the coaching staff. Bill Belichick recommended Harbaugh to Bisciotti for the Ravens head job in 2008.

The surging Ravens have won four of five. They’re 7-5 and leading the AFC North. And -- unlike other teams that traditionally melt under the lights in New England -- the Ravens relish the chance to play the Patriots.

"We have to go up into a hostile place in New England that we really enjoy playing [at]," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "It's going to be another important game in December up there on a Monday night, and it's going to be a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to it, big time."

“Now we’ve got our toughest challenge and we’ll need to play our best football up in New England to win that football game,” said Harbaugh. “We believe we’ll have a chance to do that based on where we are right now. … They’ve got great players, a great organization and they’re always at the top and they’ve earned it. We’ve been honored to be in some big games with them over the years and that’s a place we want to be.”