FOXBOROUGH - Like the rest of the NFL, the New York Jets didn't know what to expect from Randy Moss when he made his Patriots debut Sept. 9 against them at Giants Stadium. It didn't take long for everyone to realize that not only was the Moss of old back, he was better than ever.
Moss, who has a career-high and NFL-leading 19 touchdown receptions this season, caught nine balls for 183 yards and a TD in the teams' first meeting, a 38-14 New England victory. Moss, who had two TD catches last week against Pittsburgh, is within sight of Jerry Rice's NFL record for TD receptions in a season (22).
"He is playing great," said Jets safety Kerry Rhodes. "A lot of people didn't know what to expect out of him this year, but he has been great. He has been a guy that I hear all of the guys look up to on the offensive side of the ball, which a lot of people didn't expect. He has played great and has been a good teammate."
To prevent Moss from torching them today at Gillette Stadium like he did in the first meeting, Rhodes said the Jets have to bump him and bang him. In the first game, New York let Moss get a free release for a 51-yard score and he sailed past three defenders to haul in a deep ball from Tom Brady.
"You have to be physical with him," said Rhodes, who is tied for fourth in the league with five interceptions. "You have to get to him early and not let him run. Once he gets running, I don't think there is a defensive back in the league who can stick with him running down the field."
Jets rookie cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was assigned to shadow Dallas Cowboys wideout Terrell Owens, figures to see a lot of Moss today.
"He is electrifying," said Revis. "You have to play him the best way that you can. You see him catching balls over three or four guys. Brady finds him. That is his main target. You know the ball is going to come when you are watching him."
A balancing act
With the forecast for today's game calling for wintry weather, the focus will be on footing. The Patriots have not played a snowy or icy game on the FieldTurf at Gillette since it replaced the oft-criticized sod last November. "If you know it's the possibility of snow or rain, wear the right cleats," said cornerback Asante Samuel
. "Slipping will always be an issue if it's snowing or raining with the FieldTurf. You just have to come out prepared." It would seem offensive players would have an advantage in poor field conditions. "Yeah, I would imagine so," said Samuel. "You see a lot more slipping when it is snowy or it's raining and it's cold. Whatever the conditions are, we come out prepared for it." . . . With safety James Sanders
nursing a knee injury that has him listed as questionable, Eugene Wilson's
workload could increase. Wilson returned to action last week after sitting out five straight games and played 23 of 68 snaps with two tackles. Wilson had missed three games with an ankle injury and was inactive for two more when he was not on the final injury report. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees
said Wilson's health has affected his status. "I would say that he certainly has not been healthy and he's been working hard to get back," said Pees. "He's doing well. He's had a good week of practice. But I would also say that James Sanders has played himself into a position where it could have been a rotation had there been an injury or not. But I think all three [safeties] were playing well and Eugene was hurt, so that made the decision a little bit easier."
The Patriots can lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a victory today. The Patriots have been the top seed in the AFC only once in their history, the 2003 season. They went on to win the second of their three Super Bowl titles that season. The Patriots have earned a first-round bye on four previous occasions - 1996, 2001, 2003, and 2004. They advanced to the Super Bowl each time . . . Wes Welker
needs 26 receiving yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career . . . The Patriots are advising fans to consider leaving earlier for the game because of the weather. Parking lots will open at 8 a.m. Stadium gates open at 11 a.m., and kickoff is at 1 p.m. Fans are strongly encouraged to park in lots P10 and P11.
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