Sympathy for the bedeviled: On Moss


Sympathy for the bedeviled: On Moss

By Mary Paoletti Staff Reporter Follow @mary_paoletti
I've cleared out a lot of 2010 NFL memories to make room for the 2011 season. But Week 8 is unforgettable.

Halloween night. Minnesota visited the Patriots and Gillette was humming because Randy Gene was back. I leaned over my seat on press row to scan the crowd for the funniest, weirdest costumes and kept seeing Moss masks. Who knows how many Patriots fans wore that plastic lookalike face that night? Hundreds? Thousands?

So many remained thankful for Moss' first season with New England: 98 catches for 1,493 yards and a record 23 touchdowns. A Super Bowl appearance. Some of them could probably recall exactly where he caught each of 50 touchdowns (in 52 total games) while wearing red, white and blue.

He hadn't left that long ago.

On October 4, the Patriots beat Miami 41-14 on Monday Night Football. Moss didn't have a catch. Two days later he was traded to Minnesota -- back to where he was drafted and spent the first seven seasons of his career. He was "home".

"To all the Vikings fans that are coming to the Metrodome, pull your 84 jerseys out, man," Moss said. "I think this is going to be a fun ride."
It wasn't.

The Patriots went 3-0 without Randy; Moss withered and burned with the Vikes.

New England beat Minnesota 28-18 on October 31. Moss had just one, eight-yard reception but a lot on his mind.

I headed for the press elevator after the game. I was covering the Vikings' reaction -- expecting press conferences from the again-injured Favre and a hapless Childress.

I looked to my right, through the glass look-in on the door that led to Minnesota's locker room. Seeing one-catch Randy Moss walk in was a surprise. He kept his head down and the brim of an all-black hat -- a Boston hat -- covered his eyes. Moss also wore a hoodless Georgetown sweatshirt. He looked scared.

My colleague, Danny Picard, and I exchanged a look as Moss took the podium. Something big was about to happen. I pushed "play" on my voice recorder and leaned forward.

"Well, Imma go ahead and start this thing off," he said. Then he stopped, whether to say a quick prayer from his foxhole or ditch the battle plan altogether.

"Imma go ahead and say this." he tried again. "Look, I got fined 25,000 for not talking to y'all. And, me personally, I really don't care, but at the same time I do ask questions -- I mean, I do answer questions throughout the week. But for the league to fine me 25,000 I'm not going to answer any -- more -- questions for the rest of this year --"

Here, he raised his eyes: Hear me. Know this. Listen. I wondered if he was mad at himself for switching "ask questions" with "answer questions".

'Here we go,' I thought.

"If there's gon' be an interview, I'm gon' conduct it. So I'll answer my own questions -- ask myself the questions and give y'all the answers. So, from here on out I'm not answering any more questions for the rest of the season. And, uh, enough said at that. Now we'll get to the game. Um."

Stunning. My mouth hung open wide enough for a hummingbird to zip on in.

After that much, Moss seemed spent. He expelled a loud sigh. "Tryin'a, tryin'a, tryin'a" he looked down to the left and couldn't help a small, ironic smile.

Another hard sigh. "Lemme hold it down. Alright."

Moss addressed New England's captains: Wilfork, Mayo, Faulk and "Tommy Boy".

"Man, I miss them guys, man. I miss the team," Moss said. "It was hard for me to come here and play. Been an up-and-down roller coaster emotionally all week. And then to be able to come in here and see those guys running plays that I know what they're doing, and the success they had on the field, the running game -- so, I kind of know what kind of feeling they have in their locker room, man, and I just want to be able to tell the guys that I miss the hell out of them. Every last helmet in that locker room, man."

"Coach Belichick, he gave me an opportunity to be a part of something special and that's something I really take-take-take to heart. I actually salute coach Belichick and his team for the success they've had before me, during me and after me. So I'm actually stuck for words just because the fact that . . . there's just a lot of memories to here. To the New England Patriots fans that . . . that ovation at the end of the game. That really felt heartwarming. I think I actually shedded a tear for that."

Another pause. I was uncomfortable. I felt I'd walked in on some supremely private moment. Which is funny, because he forced his moment into a predictably public routine.

"I don't know how many more times I'll be in New England again. But I leave Coach Belichick and those guys with a salute: 'I love you guys. I miss you. I'm out."

The Vikings put him on waivers two days later.

Today, however many hours after Moss is reported to retire, I'm unsure how to neatly fold and shelve what I watched last season. Moss' words from Halloween night stayed on my voice recorder for months. I think I wanted to keep it as a compass point to remind me of what was true when the editorializing happened.

Every outlet wrote about the presser. One called Moss' speech a "bizarre declaration". Others gave it the Spoiled Athlete packaging, stamping it a "Problem Player" week for Moss because he didn't get his way.

His past is prejudicial.

Moss has cut himself down since 1995. At least.

There's the DuPont High School fight that awarded him jail time and cost him a scholarship to Notre Dame. Then he upended a good shot at Florida State because of a failed drug test. He was drafted at No. 21 by the Vikings in1998, not because of waning talent, but because of concerns with his character.

Moss caught 574 passes for 9,142 yards and 90 touchdowns in seven seasons with Minnesota. He also tested positive for marijuana in 2001 and was arrested in 2002 after nudging a traffic control agent out of the way . . . with his car. In 2004, Moss was criticized for walking off the field during a regular season loss before the game was over. The Vikings' patience with his irresponsibility was finally spent in 2005 and he was sent to the Raiders.

Injuries, a bad attitude, and continued failure of Oakland football made his two years there a wash.

New England relieved the Raiders of Moss for some fourth-round draft pick.

The rest -- from his brilliant 2007 to "LateGate", to the trade -- is history. Expect to read different versions.

I've read that for a potential Hall of Famer to spend his last NFL season sulking from one team to another, to another and another, is disgraceful. "He shamed himself," some have said. "He quit every time things got complicated."

Maybe I'm naive, but that's not all I saw. I've never been able to ignore the other side of Moss. Last season I thought he looked like a bewildered and angry foster kid bouncing from family to family and never really feeling safe.

"Im not saying that Im not appreciated here. But I would like to feel that sometime," he said. "This is the last year of my contract. Nothing has been discussed. Theres not been anything said. Not a letter. Nothing."

This statement came after Week 1's bout with the Bengals. The vehemence was unsettling because it burned up the back of a 38-24 win. At least one reporter called him out on it.

"I dont want to take away from the win. But I think that before this season gets started, I dont want it to be Week 10, Week 11, Week 12, and were sitting here talking about a contract. What I want to let you all know is, I know this is the last year of my contract and Im here to play it out. And I want to play some damn good football. Thats basically what Im trying to tell you. I dont want to wait until week 12 or 13. Every week is not going to be good for me."

The podium appearance was one gigantic red flag, but there were other, different warning signs too.

Moss led with his "long", tumultuous history. It was as though he believed that's what all the reporters were thinking -- 'It's Moss the Menace again' -- and wanted to steal it from their munitions store.

I heard a man at war with himself.

He talked about not feeling "very liked" throughout his 13-year career, then bristled at admitting he's thought about it and claimed "honestly" not to care. He was a mess of contradictions, professing his love for playing Patriots football after stating, "I'm not saying that I want to stay here."

Everywhere Moss looked he saw land mines. He imagined his words twisted and taken out of context before it happened. He felt vulnerable, but didn't want a damn person to call him weak. It was like he'd mentally boxed up his New England home even before Week 1 and was bracing for yet another boot to the ass.

Remember Karl Taro Greenfeld's 2005 Sports Illustrated piece, "Do Not Disturb?" Moss was enraged when his garage opener suddenly wouldn't work and the door was stuck on the tracks.

"You see?" he growled at Greenfeld. "That's why I don't let nobody into my house. They are always f----in s--- up."

That's why he doesn't let anybody into his life. They are always messing stuff up.

When the Week 1 presser aired people heard another millionaire bawling about money and playing time. The Patriots hadn't yet hustled to offer him a secure future in his contract year. Motivational tactic for the hopeful signee? Sure. Unless it backfires. I saw Moss in a corner, watching those signs of a healthy career disappear.

"When you have done so much and put so much work in, it kind of feels like I am not wanted," Moss later told's William Bendetson. "I am taking that in stride and playing my final year out and whatever the future holds is what it holds, but it is kind of a bad feeling -- feeling not wanted. It is not like my production has gone down."

Moss' production may not have gone down, but Brady's threatened to. In New England's 28-14 loss to the Jets on Sept. 19, Brady targeted Moss 10 times but connected just twice for 38 yards. Moss dropped three passes and New York's shutdown corner, Darrelle Revis, was in the locker room for almost three quarters of the game. Brady finished 20 for 36 and had as many interceptions -- two -- as touchdowns.

The lesson: Brady had eyes only for Moss and that was great for Randy, bad for the Patriots.

A week later the Patriots beat Buffalo, 38-30. Moss played 58 of 68 snaps, but the ones he missed were important -- he sat on the bench for the start of New England's first drive.

Then came Miami.

Moss imagined his world falling to pieces. Both the player and team thought somewhere else would be better. But, for Moss, nowhere else worked because no matter where he went, he couldn't leave Randy Gene behind. He was searching for football answers when it sounded like he had more than football problems.

From the Feldman piece:

"I don't have any friends. I can't really have any friends. It's sad, really. It's lonely. But that's how I am. That's why I say that I don't really care what people think or say about me, because I'm my own man. Nobody helps me, comes and pays my bills when it's time for them to be paid, and nobody wakes me up in the morning or works out for me. My thing is, unless you've been in my shoes, don't say nothing to me; and if you don't care for me, then, oh well."

Sympathy for a devil? No. Sympathy for a bedeviled man, maybe.

"You know I am human, I do have emotions like every body else."

That's how I remember Moss.

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

Butler, Brown set to square off again in AFC title game

Butler, Brown set to square off again in AFC title game

FOXBORO -- The general consensus has been that when it comes to defending Antonio Brown, or any No. 1 receiver for that matter, the Patriots have two options: Use their top corner Malcolm Butler in man-to-man coverage or double-team him.

There are benefits to each. Butler has the speed an quickness to effectively mirror Brown's routes. Meanwhile, Logan Ryan has found recent success in teaming up with teammates to slow down top options like Houston's DeAndre Hopkins, who was the target when Devin McCourty broke up a fourth-quarter pass that resulted in a Ryan interception last week. 

Both the Steelers and the Patriots seemed to indicate that they knew which way Bill Belichick will lean this weekend. 

"[I] assume maybe that [Butler] will follow AB around," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "He’s a guy that really has just come into the role of being pretty much a shutdown corner."

"[Butler] takes this as a big challenge," Patriots defensive captain Dont'a Hightower said. "We obviously know what Antonio Brown is. He’s arguably the best wide receiver in the league. We know what kind of matchup threat he poses. We expect Malcolm to take advantage of that, and I know he’s ready to rise up to that challenge." 

But Brown -- named a First-Team All-Pro this season after reeling in 106 passes for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns -- has the ability to make one singular plan of attack obsolete, eventually. The Patriots will have to throw different looks at him to keep him guessing, keep Roethlisberger thinking, and keep their connection somewhat under control.

Here are a few of the options . . . 


In Week 7 against the Steelers, this seemed to be the coverage of choice for the Patriots. They used Butler to shadow Brown all over the field for much of the game while one safety patrolled the deep middle portion of the field.

The third-year corner saw nine targets sent his way while in coverage of Brown. Five were caught for 94 yards.

Though the numbers looked pretty good for Brown fantasy owners, Butler had one of his stronger games of the season, making an interception in the end zone while draped all over his man. That was followed up by a celebrattion that mocked Brown's staple touchdown dance.

Brown and Butler have a relationship after seeing each other over the last two seasons and shooting a Visa commerical together earlier this year, and he sounded fired up to go against Brown again this weekend.

"Most definitely I respect that guy," Butler said of Brown this week. "Great player obviously, and (I) just love to compete and he loves to compete also."

Though Butler found himself on what looked like an island in plenty of situations back in Week 7, the Patriots also had their deep safeties (McCourty and Duron Harmon) keep a close eye on Brown as well.

But on Brown's longest catch of the game, a 51-yarder over the middle of the field, having a safety there didn't mean much due to a smart play-design by offensive coordinator Todd Haley. 

Brown was followed by Butler all the way across the field, and though Harmon may have been in position to help over the top, he had to respect the deep over route run by Steelers burner Darrius Heyward-Bey. By the time Harmon got to Brown -- Heyward-Bey actually helped slow down Harmon by screening him deep down the field -- it was too late. 


There were other instances -- like the very first third-and-long of the game for the Steelers -- when the Patriots doubled Brown off the snap with Butler and McCourty. With a player of Brown's caliber, it's not question of either single him with Butler or double him. Doubles will simply be part of the deal, in all likelihood, whether Butler's on him or not.

Back in Week 7, the Patriots were burned by Steelers secondary options on a couple of occasions when they quickly removed Brown from the equation.

The first time Brown was doubled off the snap (above), Eric Rowe was left with Heyward-Bey in a one-on-one situation and was beaten for a 14-yard touchdown in the back corner of the end zone. The second time (below), Heyward-Bey ran across the field with Rowe trailing him, scoring once again from 14 yards out.

A holding penalty negated the second score, but it seemed clear what the Patriots were trying to tell the Steelers in those situations: "Go ahead and beat us with someone else, but we won't let you do it with Brown."

Even when Brown inevitably makes plays despite the extra attention -- the Steelers will run rub routes, screens and reverses simply to get the football in his hands -- it will be incumbent upon everyone to help limit his yards after the catch, McCourty explained this week.

"Brown is a great player and Malcolm has done a great job but it’s going to be all of us," McCourty said. "All of us have to help out and make sure we try to limit him whether that’s getting everyone to the ball, whether it’s a short pass [or] intermediate pass, whether he breaks a tackle and he’s trying to reverse, we all just got to have a high sense of urgency for him and alertness and try to get to him before he’s able to break the 50-60-yard play. I think defensively we all understand that and we’re going to work on that all week."


There are plenty of other defenses that the Patriots may choose to run in order to try to take away one of the game's best play-makers. If they feel as though Heyward-Bey or Eli Rogers or another teammate of Brown's is worthy of garnering special attention from one of their safeties, they could opt for more split-safety looks -- with both McCourty and Harmon deep -- than they did in Week 7.

The fact that it's Ben Roethlisberger behind center now -- and not Landry Jones, as it was in Week 7 -- may also help dictate coverages and encourage the Patriots to be more vigilent against the explosive play. 

Bottom line: Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will employ more than one look when they take on the best passing game they've faced all season. Oftentimes that'll mean two sets of eyes on Brown, and even then that's not guaranteed to stop him.

"It's tough because the thing about Antonio Brown and players of that caliber is that they're used to the multiple attention," Ryan said. "He gets doubled, he gets attention. Every team tries to do it, and he still has the numbers he has because he's a great player. That's what great players do.

"We just need to execute a little better than what other teams do. It's possible. It's not impossible. But he's not a guy you're going to completely eliminate from the game, and we've just got to corral him as a team."