By Mary Paoletti
FOXBORO -- "Gone but not forgotten" is a perfect phrase for Randy Moss.
Though traded three weeks ago, you hear about him constantly. In every pregame, Patriots coach Bill Belichick is asked how opponents will adjust to his Moss-less offense. In the postgame, he is asked if his team misses Randy or not.
It makes sense.
During his tenure with the team, "Brady to Moss" became one of the most thrilling possibilities on game day. Quarterback Tom Brady connected with the speedy, athletic wideout almost instantly and Moss went on to set the NFL single-season record for touchdown catches (23) in his first season in New England.
Moss had only 9 catches for 139 yards in four games before being traded this year, but his body of work as a Patriot was impressive: 259 passes for 3,904 yards and 50 touchdowns in three-plus years.
So, yeah, the trade of the seven-time Pro Bowler was dramatic. And, yeah, fans and reporters alike have questions.
Getting them answered in such a notoriously tight-lipped locker room, though? Toss-up.
"No, I haven't talked about Moss,'' running back Danny Woodhead said. "You're going to get pretty standard answers, you know what I mean?''
That everyone has moved on?
"Yeah, that's exactly right,'' Woodhead smiled.
Sunday's matchup with the Minnesota Vikings makes ducking Moss-talk more difficult. This week Randy Moss isn't just New England's formerly disgruntled downfield threat, he's Minnesota's current downfield threat. He will again run his routes at Gillette Stadium, but this time he's the Pats' problem -- a football, not personnel problem -- to handle.
So this time the guys had an opponent to address on Wednesday. Thing is, nobody stuck around. The locker room was emptier than usual.
At least Brady's media time is inescapably scheduled. He admitted the two have exchanged some text messages but if he misses Moss he didn't say.
The conversation was drawn in X's and O's.
"Moss can probably tell the Vikings the plays. He knows the signals and stuff,'' Brady said. "That's why you gotta change 'em. Hopefully he tells them one thing and then you fake it and they're guessing and maybe they guess wrong.''
Cornerback Kyle Arrington took the same businesslike tone.
"We know him well and he knows us well, so it's just going to be who goes out there and performs better technique-wise, game plan-wise . . . who's going to do the better job,'' he said.
"There are a few techniques that we're going to use to our advantage that we know in trying to stop him and I'm sure he's going to tell his guys, Brett Favre and the offensive side of the ball, the same thing about us. It should be an interesting match up."
Interesting for one reason in particular. Bill Belichick brought it up in his press conference.
"Weve worked against Moss and obviously have a good knowledge of him, but he knows a lot moreWe know one guy. He knows all of us, so I dont know if there is a big advantage there."
Good point, Bill. Minnesota certainly sees the value in its acquisition.
"I think it's been positive. He's been a positive voice around here; he's brought excitement,'' defensive end Jared Allen said. "I think he's been a positive influence in the locker room. You can see he wants to win.''
A win for Randy Moss this Sunday means a loss for the Patriots. If that happens those questions about life without 81 will carry a brand new bitterness. And it will make it that much harder to move on.