The biggest impact Randy Moss made yesterday came not on the field, but postgame in his surreal, Ellsbury-esque address.
Ramblin' Randy's 14 minutes of truth are no doubt the talk of the town today, so it's easy to forget about the statement the Patriots' offense made on the field during their 38-24 regular-season ribbon-cutting win over the Cincinnati Bengals: This offense strives to be more than just pitch-and-catch with Moss and Wes Welker.
Those preseason proclamations of a more balanced and diverse attack turned out to be not just empty words. A Patriots offense that had grown as dependent on Moss and Welker as the US is on foreign oil weaned itself off its sublime receivers a bit and the results were encouraging.
Running back Fred Taylor (14 carries for 71 yards) led a rushing attack that averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez set up the Patriots' first score, Welker's welcome-back touchdown, with a 45-yard reception, created by coverage focused on Moss.
In the fourth quarter, when the Bengals crept back into the game, quarterback Tom Brady didn't force a pass to Moss or Welker on third-and-goal. Instead he lofted a TD toss to rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Welker (eight catches for 64 yards and a pair of touchdowns) and Moss (five catches for 59 yards) still accounted for more than half of Brady's completions, but the Other Guys -- Hernandez, Gronkowski, Taylor, Kevin Faulk and Brandon Tate -- made plays too. And all of them except Gronkowski, who had the lone non-No. 83 offensive TD, produced a play of 20 yards or more.
When push comes to shove, Moss and Welker are still going to carry the mail, but it's nice to have some other delivery options.
In financial terms, what the Patriots are doing is diversifying their portfolio, and just like in investing it's a sound plan in times of transition. Among the many truths you could take away from the Patriots' humbling playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens in January was the idea that the offense had invested too much in the tandem of Welker and Moss.
With Welker sidelined for that game with his torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Ravens ganged up on Moss and suddenly Brady was Richard Gere in "An Officer and a Gentleman" -- he had nowhere else to go.
Julian Edelman, another Patriots playmaker who didn't even play yesterday, did his best to be Wes, catching two touchdowns, and Faulk answered the call as always. But overall the offense bogged down against Baltimore. There were simply no big plays and not enough playmakers.
We are all in agreement that the offense is going to have to shield the defense until the latter finds its identity.
So, if the Patriots are going to beat excellent defensive teams like the Ravens and next week's opponent, the smack-talking, snack-eating New York Jets, then they need to have more diversity and versatility then they did last year, when Moss and Welker accounted for 57.5 percent of the team's receiving yards.
"The pressure can't always be on [Moss] in our offense, on Wes and Randy, then it's not a very good offense," said Brady this morning during his weekly WEEI check-in. "I was impressed when they were covering those two we were able to get the ball to other guys, and I think that's what makes a great offense."
As usual, No. 12 is on target.
The old bromide about the Patriots offense when the team was winning back-to-back Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004 used to be that Brady's favorite receiver was ... the open one. Then in 2006, no one was really open with Deion Branch running a permanent out route, and the Patriots reacted by getting Welker and Moss.
Since Moss and Welker joined the Patriots before the 2007 season the team has increasingly relied on them more and more. Last year the two combined for 57.5 percent of the Patriots receiving yards. In 2008, the number was 57.3. In 2007, it was 54.9 percent.
Sense a trend here?
You get the sense coach Bill Belichick did, and he's trying to bring some balance back to the offense.
As an offensive coordinator it's so easy with talents like Welker and Moss to become entranced and entrenched by their ability. Your best game plan is to find a way to get those guys the ball. You don't need a Ph.D. from Belichick University to know that.
However, there is a fine line between dictating you get the ball to your playmakers and letting your playmakers dictate the game plan. Remember the ill-fated Randy Ratio that Mike Tice employed with the Vikings? Looking back was it a good thing that Welker had 123 catches last season, despite missing basically four games? Would Welker have caught that many passes if Joey Galloway had emerged as a viable third option?
Credit de facto offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien with understanding the option(s) route is the way to go when building an offense. Consider the Bengals impressed with O'Brien's work in Week 1.
"They are very efficient. That is a very efficient offense," said Cincinnati safety Chris Crocker. "They executed well, and they beat us."
Only time will tell if the Patriots can stick to a less Randy-and-Wes-centric approach. It makes some sense to though. Welker is still coming back from ACL surgery and wearing a brace, and Moss said in his podium pontification that his 33-year-old body is a little beat up from not getting any days off during training camp.
But at the end of the day having more weapons, only makes Moss and Welker bigger ones for the Patriots.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.